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2015.10.10.

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationathome,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad:International:News:TheHankyoreh

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationat
home,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad
Postedon:Nov.7,201310:07KST Modifiedon:Nov.7,201310:07KST

Left,YedalookingoutoverSeoulsHanRiverbeforehisleavingKorea.Right,thedecisionfromthe
FrenchOfficeforProtectionofRefugeesandExpatriatesgrantingYedarefugeestatus,issuedinMay.

Conscientiousobjectorsandsexualminoritiesleaveacountrythatisstill
fairlyintolerantofdifference
ByParkHyunjung,Hankyoreh21reporter
Hisname,Yeda,seemedsomehowmeaningfulacombinationoftheKoreanwordsforJesusand
Buddha.But23yearoldLeeYedamayneveragainbeabletolivewiththeparentswhogavehimthat
name.WhenwearrivedatParissCharlesdeGaulleInternationalAirportlastAugust,wefoundit
teemingwithunfamiliarfaces.Makingourwaytoatouristinformationboothnearthesecondfloor
terminal,wesawayoungKoreancoupletourists,apparentlychatteringastheywalkedpast.Intheir
placeappearedLeeYeda.
Lee,aSouthKoreannational,livesinFranceasarefugee.Hisrefugeestatuswasrecognizedbythe
FrenchOfficeforProtectionofRefugeesandExpatriates(OFPRA)twomonthsbeforehismeetingwith
theHankyorehandsevenmonthsafterhefirstsubmittedhisapplication.
Traitortohiscountry?
Aboutoneyearago,LeedepartedfromIncheonInternationalAirport,passingthroughMoscowbefore
makinghiswaytoParis.Helefttwomonthsbeforehewasscheduledtobeginhismilitaryservice,a
nationaldutyforSouthKoreanmales.Havingdecidedthathisconvictionswouldnotpermithimtojoin
thearmedforces,hespent700,000won(US$660)onaonewaytickettoParis.Hehadnointentionof
returningtoSouthKorea,hesaid.Hisdestination,France,isnotedforitsstrongsystemofsocialwelfare,
andhethoughtthatifhewasnotgrantedrefugeestatushemightbeabletofileanappeal.Ifworse
cametoworst,hecouldleaveforanothercountry,ormaybehideoutintheforest.Heisnotamemberof
anyparticularreligiousfaithoranypersecutedsexualorientation.Hehasneverworkedwithanysocial
activistgroup.
IlearnedaboutBuddhisminmiddleschool,andIvowedthatIwouldnevertakeanotherlife,Leewrote
onhisrefugeeapplication.Themandatorymilitaryservicesystemtrainsustokillpeople,whichgoes
againstmyconvictions.InSouthKorea,themilitaryservicedutyislikeariteofpassageleadingto
adulthood.Mostpeopleregarditasasacredduty.Peoplewhohavecompleteditcreatediscrimination
betweenmenwhohaveservedandthosewhohavenot[includingwomenanddisabledpersons].
ConscientiousobjectorsinSouthKoreaarestigmatizedastraitorstotheircountryandpeoplewitha

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2015.10.10.

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationathome,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad:International:News:TheHankyoreh

criminalrecord.Thesetwolabelsfollowthemwherevertheygo,andtheyarediscriminatedagainst.
AbandoninghiscitizenshipwasnotalwaysLeesplan.Itwastwoyearsagothathebeganseriously
questioningwhetherornottoserveinthemilitary.Atthetime,hehadneverevenheardofconscientious
objection.Buthisresistancetojoiningthemilitarydatedbacktochildhood.Hefounditimpossibleto
acceptthathehadtocarryagunwhenhecouldnotbeartokillevenadefenselessinsect.Heinquired
aboutdoingmedicalinsteadofcombatservice.Thiswaswhenhelearnedwhynoalternativesystemhad
beencreated,andwhoconscientiousobjectorswere.
Scared?OfcourseIwas.
WhileontheplanetoFrance,hefinishedabookhehadstartedinKorea.TitledTheLanguageofPeace
IHadtoSwallow,itwaswrittenbyconscientiousobjectorandpeaceresearcherImJaeseong.Lee,who
wasbornin1991,sawparallelsbetweenhisownlifeandtheeventsofthatyear.Hiseyesfilledwith
tearsratherthangivinghimcomfort,itonlymadehimfeelsorrow.
InApril1991,aMyongjiUniversityfreshmannamedKangKyungdaewasbeatentodeathbya
plainclothespolicemanwithametalpipe.Hehadbeenfightingforloweruniversitytuition,andthe
policemanwaspartofateamcrackingdownonprotesters.ThefollowingMay4,aprivatefirstclass
namedParkSeokjin,amemberofthefirstcompanyoftheSeoulMetropolitanPoliceAgencysfirstriot
squad,lefthisworkplaceandissuedastatementofconscientiousobjection,declaringthathecouldno
longerfightagainststudentsandmembersofthepublicirrespectiveofmyownwill.Thestatedecided
Parkwasacriminal.HewasarrestedandchargedwithviolatingtheEstablishmentofRiotPoliceUnits
Act.Eventually,hewasfoundguiltyandsentencedtoeighteenmonthsinprisonsuspendedforthree
years.
AllIdidwasnotgointothemilitary,andIbecameacriminal.Allthosepeople,allthatwork,and
nothingsreallychanged....
HelefttheairportandheadedintoParis.Afterfindingaplacetostay,heimmediatelystartedinquiring
aboutrefugeeapplications.ThereareanumberofgroupsinParisthatofferassistance.AllLeehadat
thetimewasthe500,000won(US$470)hismotherhadgivenhim.Hesometimessleptoutonthestreet
whenhecouldntfindabed.Afteraboutfivemonthsofwaiting,hewasfinallyallowedtostayata
residenceforrefugeeapplicants.Franceforbidsapplicantsfromseekingemployment,butitdoesprovide
supportforlivingexpenses.
Meanwhile,Leesmotherwaspleadingwithhim.Hecouldjustclosehiseyesanddotheservice,and
thenworkafterwardstofixthethingsthatwerewrongwithit.Sometimes,shewouldangrilyaskhimwhy
hewouldleavehiscountryandfamilytoavoidthemilitarywheneveryotheryoungmanjustwentanddid
it.Scared?OfcourseIwas,Leesaid.MyEnglishwasfarfromperfect,andmyFrenchwaseven
worse.ButIdidnotwanttogointothemilitary.AndIdidnotwantmyfreedomtakenawaybythe
military.
Thefreedomtonotgointothemilitaryisitcrazytodreamofnotbeingputbehindbarsbecauseyou
refusetojoin?Since2008,theUNHumanRightsCouncilandtheEuropeanCourtofHumanRightshave
viewedpunishmentofconscientiousobjectorsasarbitrarydetention.OhJaechang,anattorneywith
thelawfirmHaemaru,saidtheydosobecausetheyviewconscientiousobjectionasbeinglikefreedom
tomigrate,arightthatallhumansshouldenjoy.
Thatthiskindofarbitrarydetentionkeepshappeningisashametocivilizedcountries,Ohsaid.
ThispastOct.8,anotheryoungmandeclaredthathewouldnotbedoinghisservice.ParkJeonghun,
27,isanactivistwithAlbaYeondae,agroupworkingonbehindofyoungparttimeworkers.Ontheday
ofhisscheduledinduction,ParkheldapressconferenceinfrontofDaehanGateincentralSeoulto
declare,ThecountrythatIwishtodefendisnotabarbaricplacelikethis.
Earlythisyear,fiftyconscientiousobjectorswhoseguiltyverdictshadbeenupheldbytheSupremeCourt
filedapetitionwiththeUNHumanRightsCommitteechargingtheSouthKoreangovernmentwithdefying
internationalnormsandarbitrarilydetailingconscientiousobjectors.

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2015.10.10.

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationathome,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad:International:News:TheHankyoreh

LeeSangmin,whointendstoseekrefugeestatusabroadaftergraduatingfromuniversitytoavoidhis
mandatorymilitaryservice.

WhereareSouthKoreasrefugees?
TheideaofapplyingforrefugeestatuscametoLeefromafriend,LeeSangmin,whosharedsimilar
concerns.
Sangminhadalsoresolvednottogointothemilitary.Hisplanhadbeentogooverseasassoonashe
finisheduniversityandapplyforrefugeestatus.Butsomethinghappenedtheyearhewastograduate
fromhighschool:theYongsantragedyof2009,whichsawsixpeoplelosetheirliveswhena
redevelopmentprotestturnedintoaninferno.
Theprotestingresidentswentupthere[ontheroof]tosurvivethedemolitionforredevelopment,he
said.Theywereordinarypeoplelivingordinarylivesupuntilthedaythestategotinvolvedwithits
project.Thestatedrovethemoverthecliff,anditwasshockingtoseethewholethingbeingblamedon
them.
Ashebeganconsideringtheoptionofrefusingtoserve,hisfirstthoughtwastoemigrate.Hewaslooking
atthesojournqualificationswhenhefoundoutaboutrefugeestatus.Atthetime,themediawas
reportingabouta28yearoldmannamedKimKyunghwanwhohadhadhisstatusasarefugee
recognizedin2009byCanadasImmigrationandRefugeeBoard.Kimwasaconscientiousobjectorwho
wasalsohomosexual.
Fromanearlyage,heseemedtoseethecountrydifferentlyfromotherchildren.Hecanrememberthat
daywhenhewasanelementaryschoolstudent,andhishomeworkassignmentwastomemorizethe

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2015.10.10.

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationathome,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad:International:News:TheHankyoreh

pledgetothenationalflag.
Areyoutrulypreparedtodedicateyourbodyandmindtotheendlessgloryofthehomelandand
people?hisfatheraskedhim.
Evenasachild,hethought,Imightsacrificeafewthings,butIdontknowabouteverything.
Today,Sangminsfathertellshissonhecantbearthethoughtoftellinghimtogointothemilitary.But
Sangminsfatherhassuggestedtheprisonoption,worriedabouthowhissonwillfareinastrange
country.Themotherisstillhavingtroubleacceptingheronlysonsdecision.
SufferingofKoreansexualminorities
YedaisnottheonlySouthKoreantogainrefugeestatusthisyear.LastApril,KimInsu,a34yearold
gaymanwhoalsorefusedtoenlist,hadstatusgrantedinAustralia.Recently,sometransgender
individualshavealsohadrefugeestatusgranted.Alladamantlyrefusedtogiveanyidentifying
informationgoingsofarastoaskthattheircurrentcountryofresidencenotbelisted.
Itlookslikethecountriestookanumberoffactorsintoaccountingrantingrefugeestatus,saidRyu
Minhee,anattorneywiththegroupKoreanSocietyofLawandPolicyonSexualOrientationandGender
Identity,whichsubmittedanopiniononthecurrentsituationinSouthKoreaduringthereviewprocess.
Thisincludestheverystrictconditionsforgenderreassignment,thedifficultyfindingemploymentwhen
yourappearancedoesntmatchthegenderlistedonyouridentification,thelikelihoodoffinancial
problemsbecauseinsurancedoesnotcovergenderreassignmentsurgerywhichcanbeverycostly
andthelackofanylegalrecourseforLGBTindividuals,suchasantidiscriminationorhatecrimes
legislation.
Atthemoment,nolawsexistthatcouldallowtransgenderindividualstochangetheirlegalgender.
Rulingsweremadebyindividualcourtsaftera2006SupremeCourtprecedentallowingsuchachange.
Inmostcases,thecourtshavefollowedtheguidelinesforhandlinggendermodificationpermitrequests
fortransgenderindividualsasdraftedbytheSupremeCourt(RegistrationofFamilyRelationship
regulationNo.346).Accordingtothoseguidelines,oneoftheconditionsforgrantingapermitisthatan
individualmusthaveexternalsexualorgansoppositetothoseofhis/herbiologicalsex.
In2008,theNationalHumanRightsCommissionsubmittedarecommendationtotheChiefJustice
askingthattheregulationbeamended,claimingitstandstoviolatehumanrightsbydemandingthat
individualswhohavealreadytakenmedicalmeasuresforgenderreassignment,includinghormonal
treatments,gosofarastohaveplasticsurgeryontheirgenitalia.
LGBTindividualsweregrantedrefugeestatusthatyearaswell.InAustralia,theRefugeeReview
TribunalgaverefugeestatustoagaySouthKoreanmanwithtransgenderidentification.Initsruling,it
describedSouthKoreaasaconservativecountrywherehomosexualitywasnotillegalandLGBT
individualsenjoyedsomeprotectionsfromdiscrimination,butwheregaymarriagewasnotpermittedand
comingoutwasdifficult.
Fiveyearshavepassedsincethen.
Emigrantsareactuallyrefugees
Astheyearspasswithoutchange,theyseemtothrowcoldwateronanyhopesthatSouthKorean
societymightchange.
Iknowthatthingsdontchangeeasily,butIwanttolivemylifefighting,saidYeda.Buttheydriveyou
overtheedge,withoutanykindofcompromise.Whatdrovemeawaywasthefactthatsomethingthat
otherpeoplelookatasnobigdealwasdrivingmeovertheedge.
Sangminofferedaslightlymorerealistperspective.Willourcountryeverbecomeaplacewherepeople
helpeachotherandbuildupwelfare?heasked.Itllchange,abitatatime,buthistoryshoesthatit
takessomethinglikeacenturyortwo.SonotmuchisgoingtochangewhileImaround.Iwanttogo
somewherewhereIcanbefreeandliveaselfsufficientlifeasafarmer.
AfewpeoplewhoarenotconscientiousobjectorsorLGBTindividualshaveleftorhopetoleave.
BetweenSept.16and23,theHankyorehandDooitSurveypolled7,707peopleintheirteensandolder
onwhethertheywantedtoliveinanothercountryiftheyhadachance.Fully60.8%ofrespondentssaid
yes,nearlythreetimesasmanyasthe22.7%whosaidno.Thisraisesthequestion:howmanyofthe
roughly15,000suicidesinthecountryeachyearareoneswhosawnoshredofhope?

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2015.10.10.

[Specialreport]Fleeingdiscriminationathome,S.Koreansseekasylumabroad:International:News:TheHankyoreh

Inthecaseofgaypeople,itsnotrefugeestatus,butIveheardofpeoplemakingfamiliesandsettling
downincountriesliketheNetherlandswheregaymarriageislegal,saidImTaehoon,directorofthe
CenterforMilitaryHumanRights.
ParentswithdevelopmentallydisabledchildrenleaveforCanada,whichhasabettersupportsystem,
Imadded.
TwomonthspassedafterthisreportermetLeeYeda.Duringthattime,hestartedworking,hesaid.Five
daysaweek,hespendsthedaykneadingdoughatabagelbakery.Hefeelsabitlikethemigrantworker
whodoesthejobsthelocalsdontwanttodo.HeisntyetfluentinFrench,andheoftenfeelsslighted.
ButhealsoreportsthatthepayandworkingenvironmentarefarbetterthaninSouthKorea.
Havingbeengrantedarenewabletenyearsojourn,heisnowarecipientofsocialsecurityprovidedto
thelowestearnersinFrance.
Whenaskedifhefeelslonely,Leereplied,IfeltlonelyinSouthKorea,too.Noonethereunderstood
me.
Lifeasarefugeemeansbreakingwitholdsocialtiesandbuildingnewones.Leecangotoanycountryin
theworldexcepthishomecountry.Beforeleaving,hepredictedthathewouldneverreturn,barring
sometrulyexceptionaldevelopment.
ImadeapointoftravelingoftentotheneighborhoodsIliked,hesaid.IdidthesamethingsIusedto
dowalkingaroundwithfriendsandtalkinglateatnight.IremembersnackingatMcDonaldsearlyinthe
morning,evenwhenitwasraining.
Youdontneedtohidemyfaceormyname
WordsandBowauthorHongSehwaalsolivedasarefugeeinFranceafterreceivingpoliticalasylum.
Timepassed,butnothingchangedIwasstillsomeonewhothoughtinKorean,Hongrecalled.My
childrengrewupinacountrytheydidntchoosebecauseoftheirfather,andtheyendedupthinkingin
French.SowhenIwasfinallyabletoreturntoKorea,Iwentback,buttheyhadtostaybehind.
ItseemedalmostcertainthatLeeYedawouldinsistonanonymity,soitwasasurprisewhenhesaid,
Youdontneedtohidemyfaceormyname.Hedidapologizetohisfamily,andheworriedaboutthe
scathingcriticismthatwassuretoheadhisway.
YouseealotofkidslikemeinKorea,hesaid.Thingsaresobadthatpeoplelikemearerecognized
asrefugeesinothercountries.Theywonderifevenonepersonwillcomeoutandsay,Ifeelthesame
way.Theyknowtheycantchangethingsbythemselves,buttheybelieveincreatingthepossibilityof
change.
ThiswasthemessageLeehopedtosendtothecountrythatheleftorthatdrovehimtotheedge.
Pleasedirectquestionsorcommentsto[english@hani.co.kr]

UNreport:9outof10conscientiousobjectors...
Conscientiousobjectorstosubmitpetitionton...

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