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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Aug. 31)

All Headlines 07:01 August 31, 2016

Expelling refugee
Baloch case shows foreigner-averse tendency

Korea has turned its back on a famous asylum seeker. (We decided to withhold his identity for fear of his being further persecuted). His plea to be sent to a third country was also denied, so he was deported to Pakistan on July 29 and his supporters here have lost contact with him. They fear the worst because he promised to get in touch with them. He was a self-proclaimed and court-denied member of the Balochistan National Movement and was on the blacklist of Karachi's feared Inter-Services Intelligence.

He fought to gain refugee status from the Korean government for six years before the Supreme Court confirmed the high court decision that his assertion that he feared harm would be done to him and his family by Pakistani authorities was not tenable.

True, he may have been lucky to take the case all the way to the highest court when many asylum seekers are summarily denied before that. In his case, one may rightfully argue that the rule of law has prevailed regardless of the consequences.

However, at least for future cases like his, the judiciary and immigration authorities need to take one thing into consideration. As the United Nations recommends, the benefit of the doubt should be given in assessing applications for refugee status.

In 2012, he was granted refugee status, acknowledging that his use of a false passport was an inevitable way of protecting himself. He claimed he escaped into Korea after sustaining a gunshot wound while fighting as an independence fighter for his tribe. His father was also interrogated by the ISA.

Balochistan has been under Pakistan's rule since it was liberated from India in 1947. Reports have it that many Balochs have been killed while hundreds of thousands have been relocated.

When it was found that he used somebody else's identity, he was detained by immigration officials. The appellate court overturned the verdict. The independence movement he said he belonged to denied he was a member when the question was asked through its website. In another inquiry made by his lawyer, Bae Eui-cheol, the organization confirmed he was an active member.

Then, the highest court sided with the appellate court's ruling, citing there was not enough evidence that proved he was being targeted by the Pakistani government.

When he pleaded with the court not to send him to Pakistan, immigration authorities rejected his plea, citing many cases of "vagabond" refugees who travel from one country to another in pursuit of refugee status.

"His hair turned white in a matter of months while in detention," said Bae, who worked pro bono for six years for him. "He was not much more than a beggar when he came out of his ordeal because he was not allowed to get a job during that time."

Bae said he respected the court's ruling and understood it in the context of the flooding requests for refugee status because Korea is the only East Asian signatory to the relevant U.N. protocols while Japan and China are not. "We tend to treat them as numbers and I am concerned we are losing our humanity in treating other human beings with respect," Bae said.

Europe is inundated by refugees to the tune of millions. Refugees knocking on the doors of Korea pale by comparison. And Korea is also set to suffer from a drop in population while diversity would be part of the solution as seen in the examples of other countries.

We as a society need to become more accepting to the extent that it should be allowed so it will reach all corners of society, including the courts. It is an exercise we need for our better future.

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