The Refugee Rights Center (NANCEN) Statement
On Fabricated Refugee Interview by the Ministry of Justice
In 2017, it was discovered that the interview records of many Arabic asylum applicants who applied for asylum at the Seoul Immigration Office had been fabricated. The majority were interview records of asylum applicants from Arabic-speaking countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Morocco, Libya who applied for asylum between 2015 and 2016; all these records had the signature of the same interpreter at the bottom. According to the victims, not only were their asylum interviews done in haste, typically within 20 to 30 minutes, but also they had no opportunity to fully elaborate on their case and review how their testimony was incorporated into their interview record. Not a single victim had their interview audio-recorded or video-taped in accordance with the Refugee Act.
The fabrication was quite extensive. The record of each of the asylum applicants contained surprisingly similar questions and answers to the effect of: “Did you actually experience what you wrote in your refugee application?” “No, I did not, I got the information from the internet.” “Is what you wrote in your refugee application true?” “No, it is not.” “Why did you apply for asylum?” “I want to stay and work in Korea.” “Will you face any persecution or danger if you return to your home country?” “No, I will not.” After a fabricated asylum interview, each victim was handed a Notice of Denial letter, written in Korean, that said “this applicant does not qualify as a refugee because he/she came to Korea for economic reasons.”
The victims—who had appealed to the Minister of Justice after the initial denial, only to receive the same denial letter after a long wait, and later initiated administrative litigation—did not know their interview records had been fabricated until recently. A handful of them who received legal assistance during the litigation were able to confirm that their records had been fabricated—only then did this fabrication issue come to light. There may be other asylum applicants, who could not receive legal assistance, whose interview records have been fabricated but are not aware of this fact. In two court cases, both the Seoul Administrative Court and the Seoul High Court recognized that “asylum interviews were done in such an abrupt manner that they became almost useless,” and decided that any refugee determination made on the basis of such interviews “were procedurally defective.” In July 2018, the Refugee Rights Center (NANCEN) and the Dong-cheon Foundation submitted a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission, and this case is under investigation as of now.
Despite such grave violations of human rights, the Ministry of Justice still has not conducted a full investigation into this matter. The Ministry of Justice has only been cancelling the negative refugee determinations that they deem would lose if litigated in court; in September 2018, the Ministry revealed in a press release that they had cancelled a total of 55 victims’ negative refugee determinations, but it is unclear whether a full investigation is now under way. The Ministry has yet to disclose under what standards they have conducted a full investigation and against what criteria they chose the 55 cases they cancelled. What’s more, they have not only been failing to cooperate with the National Human Rights Commission’s request for evidence, but also turned a blind eye to these serious human rights violations. None of the civil servants implicated in this matter were penalized, and they remain in their posts at the Immigration Office. This issue was first uncovered two years ago, but no remedy was provided to most of the victims. The victims are either still waiting for their refugee determination or unaware of the fact that their records were fabricated. Anti-refugee groups used one of the victims’ fabricated interview records to stage a hate attack against the victim, accusing him of a ‘fake’ refugee.
When this incident first surfaced, the Ministry of Justice attempted to place all the blame on the officer and the interpreter. However, what the press uncovered was entirely different from what the Justice Ministry had first claimed: there were three asylum officers involved in this matter, and the 55 cases whose negative refugee determinations the Ministry directly cancelled were the cases that had been set aside for expedited review by the Ministry’s Asylum Backlog Reduction Task Force since 2015. It is thus more than apparent that the Ministry has systematically been involved and directed the agencies to fabricate the records. In short, the Justice Ministry is in fact creating ‘fake refugees’ and ‘asylum applicants who exploit the Refugee Act” – who the Ministry said they are extremely keen on identifying and catching.
This is why we, the Refugee Rights Center (NANCEN), have organized today’s event on the Justice Ministry’s Fabrication of Asylum Interview Records. We hereby make the following demands to the Ministry:
- First, stop any serious human rights violations perpetrated against the asylum applicant during the refugee determination procedures
- Second, in lieu of the selective cancellation of negative refugee determinations, carry out a full and complete investigation
- Third, provide the proper refugee determination procedures to the victims whose asylum applications have been turned down due to the fabrication of their asylum interview records.
- Fourth, identify and penalize those who were in charge of this extensive fabrication, and make an official apology for its wrongful conduct
- Fifth, take measures to improve the refugee determination procedures to prevent any further human rights violations.
We, the Refugee Rights Center (NANCEN), will continue to monitor and raise our voice until this matter is properly resolved.
Refugee Rights Center
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