By: Lee Kyung-min
Adnan, a 32-year-old Syrian man, has long been yearning for the day that he will see his family again.
He came here in 2012 for work and has not been able to return home since, as the ongoing war back in his country shows no sign of abating.
As bombs and explosions reached his hometown in Damascus, his whole family — his mother, two brothers, and one sister — had to move to Lebanon, where they stayed for three months, then farther to Egypt.
“My family told me I should never return home,” Adnan told The Korea Times. “Now in Syria the situation is really bad, miserable.”
More than 8 million Syrians are scattered all over the world. It is said that more than 300,000 are dead, over 200,000 arrested, and more than 150,000 are reported missing.
Adnan is one of more than 700 Syrians awaiting the Korean government’s recognition for refugee status. Only three have been recognized so far.
He does not know if he will get the status, or when. He is currently here on humanitarian status.
People are given humanitarian status when their request for refugee status is denied. With humanitarian status, they are allowed to work and stay here. They have to renew the permission every year. They can apply for refugee status again.
However, those on humanitarian status are guaranteed a lower level of social protection. They do not qualify for social benefits including medical insurance. Their family members, if they come to Korea, are denied such benefits as well.
“I came here in 2012, as usual, to buy Korean car spare parts to sell to my clients. I never thought that it would be the last time that I set foot in my country,” he said.
“I think my chances of getting refugee status are slim and I might not be as lucky as those three, but I have no choice but to wait,” he said.
He said he did everything to explain his situation, but the Ministry of Justice said he is not in enough danger.
“They said I don’t have enough reason although I told them that my house has been burnt, my hometown has been destroyed, and two of my cousins were killed,” he said.
“They just gave me humanitarian status which means I can stay here with no rights. I can’t get medical insurance, although I didn’t ask for money or help in any other from. I just want to get refugee status so I can live as a human.”
His passport has expired, and it is not easy for him to get a new one because to do so, the foreign affairs ministry of his country, which is absolutely dysfunctional for now, has to deal with the issue. If he is recognized as a refugee, the Korean government will issue travel documents to him, which will in effect be like a passport for him.
He said his biggest fear so far is that he might get injured and sustain physical damage, as the medical costs will be very high without medical insurance.
“I have a friend who had his hand cut and damaged his nerves and veins. He went to a hospital and the operation cost 4.5 million won, an amount that is unaffordable. Who can guarantee that I will not be in the same situation?”
Hostility against foreigners in general is a factor why he is not willing to open up to Korean people, he said.
“I don’t know. I have had a lot of experiences with Korean people. Maybe I might meet nice people in the future, but I am not sure if I can say everyone is nice at this point.”
Adnan said that he wants to start a family, but that the dream is unlikely to come true here.
“I cannot go back to my country. I cannot live precariously like I do now. I need the government to recognize me as a refugee in order for me to bring my family here or I can go see them in Egypt.”
According to statistics by the Ministry, 13,310 people have applied for refugee status since Korea began accepting applications in 1994.
SOURCE: THE KOREA TIMES