INCHEON -- A court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Angolan family that has been stranded for four months inside Incheon Airport’s transit zone after being denied a chance for refugee application and entry to the country.
Nkuka Lulendo, his wife and four children aged under 10, who arrived in Korea on a tourist visa on Dec. 28, filed a suit in February, asking the court to invalidate the immigration office’s decision to deny entry and their chance at refugee status application.
The Incheon District Court viewed the immigration office’s decision as “legitimate.”
“It is right that the plaintiffs are in a pitiful situation,” the court said. “There were no procedural problems the plaintiffs pointed out.”
During the court proceedings, activists advocating on behalf of the Lulendo family argued that the government deprived the Angolans of their right to apply for refugee status without legitimate reasons and a proper explanation.
Under the Refugee Act, all asylum seekers are allowed to apply for refugee status at the port of entry. The immigration office has up to seven days to decide whether to allow them into the country for the process.
An official from the immigration office stressed the need to pre-screen asylum applicants before they are allowed entry, so as to filter out “fake” refugees and protect “genuine” ones.
Upon arrival at the airport, the family requested a chance to apply for refugee status, but the immigration office, on Jan. 9, denied their entry on grounds that the Angolans had “no clear reason” to seek asylum.
Lulendo, who was born in Angola and moved to the Democratic Republic of the Congo at an early age for better opportunities, fears persecution from the Angolan government for having left the country for Congo.
Refugee rights activists condemn the court's ruling that ruled against the Angolan family at a press conference in front of Incheon District Court, Thursday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)
Refugee rights activists condemned the court decision, which comes as the government has proposed a revision seeking to toughen the current refugee law.
“The appeal for refugee screening, not even status, was recklessly denied,” activists said at a press conference in front of the Incheon District Court.
Kim Ji-yun, an activist for an association of 14 civic groups advocating for the Lulendo family, said they will consult with the Angolans about whether to appeal the court’s decision.
Anti-refugee activists welcome the court's ruling that ruled against the Angolan family at a press conference in front of Incheon District Court, Thursday. (Ock Hyun-ju/The Korea Herald)
Right next to pro-refugee activists, anti-refugee activists welcomed the ruling.
“We are not opposing real refugees. We are opposing those coming to Korea to earn money,” said Lee Jeong-mi, who heads a group leading an anti-refugee movement. “Nowadays, illegal foreign workers apply for refugee status, and the refugee law is being exploited.”