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Until recently, the Minister of Justice’s Guidelines for the Determination of Convention Refugee Status was an internal document, withheld from public scrutiny and review. Gong-gam successfully obtained a Supreme Court decision ordering public disclosure of the Guidelines.
First-time recognition of a Chinese asylum seeker as a Convention refugee
Obtaining damages against the Korean Federation of Small and Medium Businesses for failing to provide industrial training to migrants despite accepting their fees
Gong-gam’s commitment to education and training extends to refugee and migrant issues. Recent events include regional workshops in Seoul, Daejeon, Daegu and Gwangju for activists advocating rights for migrant workers
In association with Minbyun (Lawyers for a Democratic Society), Gong-gam conducts research and takes part in various projects to protect the rights of migrants and improve their quality of life.
A Refugee Applicant's Lawsuit Seeking to Cancel the Deportation Order : The Seoul Administration Court Rules in Favor of the Plaintiff 2013.10.16 14:10 5173
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A Refugee Applicant’s Lawsuit Seeking to Cancel the Deportation Order: 
The Seoul Administration Court Rules in Favor of the Plaintiff


The plaintiff applied for refugee status in Korea in July 2011, in order to avoid the persecution in his own country. He is now in the process of appealing the Korean government’s refusal to grant him refugee status. In February 2013, when the plaintiff was caught working without a permit, he received a deportation order by the Seoul Immigration Office and was detained at the Hwaseong Detention Center.


The immigrant rights organizations such as “Act for Migrants” who learnt this story held a press conference in front of the Seoul Immigration Office. The organizations criticized the government for denying work permits to refugee applicants while providing them with no financial support, claiming that this policy deprived the refugee status applicants of the right to survive. However, the Seoul Immigration Office responded that because the plaintiff had violated the Immigration Control Act, he had to be detained in the Detention Center until the refugee status determination process finalized, which could take anywhere from several months to several years. So far, on the basis of the old provisions of the Immigration Control Act, the Ministry of Justice has issued work permits to refugee applicants in an extremely restrictive manner. Although the work permits were issued one year after the application dates, the refugee applicants received no financial support from the government. Moreover, during the process of the appeal and administrative lawsuits, work permits were not possible at all.


- Related articles
Yonhap News, May 14, 2013. ‘Act for Migrants “Refusal of work permits is deprivation of the right to survive."’

Hankyoreh, May 20, 2013. “If you apply for refugee status, be ready to starve?”


In May 2013, GongGam filed a lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiff in the Seoul Administrative Court against the head of the Seoul Immigration Office. In this lawsuit, GongGam sought to cancel the deportation and detention order, and suspend the execution of the order until the final verdict of the refugee status application. On July 2, 2013, the Seoul Administrative Court accepted the request to suspend the order. Finally, the plaintiff was released from the Detention Center after 5 months of detention.


Summary of the Main Points in the Seoul Administrative Court’s Verdict


On October 10, 2013, the Division 7 of the Seoul Administrative Court (Chief Judge Joon-bo Shim, Judge Sang-duk Lee and Judge Jin-gyu Yoon) ruled as follows:
“The Seoul Immigration Office issues work permits for refugee applicants only one year after the refugee application date in an extremely restrictive manner, while providing no financial support for refugee applicants. And the Office does not extend the work permit after it decides to deny refugee status even when the applicants decided to appeal the decision. By ordering deportation on the basis that the plaintiff worked outside the permitted period, the Office ignored the dignity of refugee applicants as humans and only emphasized the administrative consistency and expediency. This act is illegal, because the harm that it does to the plaintiff is significantly greater than the public benefit that it achieves.”


Furthermore, the Seoul Administrative Court stated:
“The Korean government did not provide any financial support for refugee applicants. When it prohibits all work under these circumstances, the survival of refugee applicants has to depend on the goodwill of philanthropic organizations or non-governmental organizations for refugees. This policy runs against the spirit of the Constitution of a civilized country, which should protect the dignity of humans and ensure their right to survival.


Regarding concerns about the abuse of the refugee application process, the Court responded that the lengthy waiting period should not be used as a reason to disadvantage refugee applicants, as one of its main causes is delay on the part of the administration. “This problem should be solved by hiring more examiners, shortening the time it takes for the refugee status determination process, or setting up complementary instruments to remove the benefits of abusing the refugee application process. If the government assumes that all refugee applicants are not refugees until they are recognized, and prevents them from working without providing them with financial support, it practically neglects its obligation to protect refugees of good standing. Justice delayed is justice denied.” As a more fundamental issue, the Court emphasized that exceptions to the principle of non-refoulement must be very strictly applied.


In addition, the Seoul Administrative Court ruled that while the new Refugee Act that went into effect in July 2013 does include transitional provisions under Article 2 of the supplementary provisions, the intent of these provisions was to set preparation periods for providing refugees with living expenses, etc.; the Court further clarified that the intent was not to provide justification for criminalizing and deporting refugee applicants of good standing by forbidding them to work while providing no financial support. (Seoul Administrative Court. 10.10. 2013. 2013Guhap13617).


We hope that this court decision reminds the Seoul Immigration Office and the Ministry of Justice of their international duties to protect refugees as prescribed by the Refugee Convention. And we hope that this decision inspires them to adopt policies that respect the dignity of refugee applicants and ensure their right to survive.

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