코로나와 맞서는 난민들, 그들은 어떤 모습을 하고 있는가?
COVID-19 and refugees
Jooman Choi (Seoul National University Graduate School of International Studies Student, CTMS Research Intern)
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the coronavirus disease a pandemic. Since then, it has reshaped our day-to-day activities, which meant huge adjustments and changes for some members of society. Refugees are not the exception. One of the consequences of this pandemic, which exasperated refugees, would be closing the borders. As a protection measure, numerous countries have limited the possibility for the refugees to enter their country and file for a case for refugee recognition. However, according to a Korean newspaper article Sisa Journal, Korea did not shut its border to refugees and still received them notwithstanding the pandemic, being one of the few countries in the world (Seo, 2020).
As positive as this article might sound, it was not the case for everyone. Upon reading, an episode with an asylum seeker occurred to me. Right before the pandemic, I was working at an organization in which I volunteered to interpret for refugees and asylum seekers. I first met Fatima (a pseudonym) to see if we could find a lawyer who could appeal to rejection of recognition of refugee status. We got to speak about somewhat private topics such as her family, work, and hopes and aspirations in our short time together. In the end, she could not get a positive answer on that day, but she told me that she would try her best to get refugee status. A few months later, I was surprised to see her in the office as I was leaving. So anxious she looked; she came for help at the organization. Although she did not specify it was due to the COVID-19, she was explaining that she had lost her job and there was no food for her family. She was desperate and devastated. She could not do anything for her visa status and she was not mentally stable, experiencing some type of PTSD, as she was shaking and kept repeating her words. There was not much to be done by the organization, said one of the officials. Immediately she was sent home.
I ask myself the question: could there not have been anything to be done for Fatima? She represents many refugees and asylum seekers jeopardized by the pandemic. Where are they? I wonder if it is even possible to hear their voice and comprehend their daily life post-COVID-19. Some must have lost their job, family, or even returned home. According to another article by Yonhap News, in Korea, approximately 16,000 people are waitlisted for recognition for refugee status from January to March 2021 (Lee, 2021). This number includes those who are appealing for recognition. The pandemic has also set the criteria higher for the evaluation process, so this contributes to the rise in the number. The global pandemic has affected refugees more than ever. In this context, I would like to ask pertinent questions to the corresponding institutions, officials, and organizations regarding this issue and demand for direct and effective participation for those who are living precariously, so they are guaranteed a minimum of humane treatment during the pandemic.
Lee, S. (2021, May 23). Highest rate of refugee screening in history due to coronavirus …the refugee recognition rate is the lowest at 0.2%. Yonhap News. https://www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20210430101500371.
Seo, J. (2020, December 14). UNHCR: “To Korea, express appreciation for accepting refugees despite Covid-19. Sisa Journal. https://www.sisajournal.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=209269.