The Korea Herald


First refugee status granted to Russian fleeing draft in S. Korea

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : June 13, 2024 - 15:33

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A Russian national who fled to South Korea to avoid military conscription amid his country’s invasion of Ukraine has become the first here to be granted refugee status.

The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the Russian against the commissioner of the Seoul Immigration Office on May 22 to cancel its decision to deny asylum, judicial officials said Wednesday.

The case marks the first instance of a Russian fleeing forced conscription due to the country's invasion of Ukraine being recognized as a refugee in South Korea.

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the man, whose identity remains undisclosed, publicly opposed the war through social media posts and participation in anti-war rallies. He arrived in South Korea in November 2022 after receiving a conscription notice.

In January 2023, he applied for refugee status in Seoul, arguing that he fled Russia to avoid conscription and faced potential punishment upon return. After authorities refused to accept his application, he launched an administrative lawsuit.

According to the Refugee Act, a person can be granted refugee status if there are credible fears of persecution based on political opinion, social status, race, religion or nationality.

The central issue in the case was whether the man's refusal to be conscripted was politically motivated by his opposition to the war in Ukraine, and if so, whether he would face persecution upon returning to Russia.

The Supreme Court recognizes that refusal to serve in the armed forces can constitute oppression if it is deemed an expression of political opinion.

The tribunal considered the seeker's refusal to be conscripted as an expression of political statement, given that he had posted on social media against the war in Ukraine and attended anti-war demonstrations organized by groups opposed to the current Russian regime.

"Russia has enacted laws that impose severe penalties on soldiers who desert or refuse to fight, with punishments including up to 10 years' detention. Media reports also indicate that Russian military authorities have executed deserters on the battlefield," the court stated, underscoring the potential oppression the asylum seeker could face if repatriated.

A record number of Russians have sought asylum in South Korea, with applications surging fivefold last year, making Russians the largest group seeking refuge in the country, according to South Korean authorities.

A report released by the Korean Immigration Service shows that 5,750 Russian nationals applied for asylum in South Korea in 2023. This figure is more than five times higher than the 1,038 Russians who sought protection in 2022 and surpasses the total number of asylum applications from Russians recorded between 1994 and 2019.