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South Korea grants Iranian student refugee status

SEOUL (UCAN): An Iranian student, who converted to Catholicism in South Korea, has now obtained refugee status thanks to the efforts of Andrew Cardinal Yeom Soo-jung of Seoul and his classmates.
 
The Ministry of Justice announced on October 19 that the Korea Immigration Service had accepted the application of the student—referred to as Anthony as his name was withheld to protect his identity and safety. 
 
Cardinal Yeom had pledged to fully support Anthony’s bid for refugee status when the two met on August 16 at the bishop’s office in Myeongdong, Seoul.
 
Afterwards, the cardinal sent letters to prime minister, Lee Nak-yon; justice minister, Park Sang-ki, the chairperson of Korea’s National Human Rights Commission; and other officials, appealing for leniency in light of Anthony’s religious conversion.
 
Prior to the final judgment on October 2, the cardinal issued another message of support.
 
“Anthony converted to Catholicism and received the sacrament of Confirmation. As he now has a clear Catholic identity, if he were to return to his home country, he would face a high possibility of persecution,” Cardinal Yeom wrote.
 
“I appeal to related agencies to offer special interest and care to Anthony, allowing him to live a humane life in South Korea and escape the threat of persecution as a refugee,” the cardinal said.
 
Born in Tehran in 2003, Anthony later travelled to Korea with his father. He converted to Catholicism while in the second grade of elementary school. His father also converted.
 
All Muslims who convert to another religion are charged as criminals in Iran.
 
Anthony first appealed for refugee status in 2016 but his application was rejected. He applied again in July with the support of the cardinal, along with his classmates and teachers.
 
They held a protest in front of the Immigration Office in Seoul on the day he submitted his second application and issued a petition online to the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
 
“Lots of friends and teachers helped me to obtain this refugee status. Cardinal Yeom in particular encouraged me and gave me huge support,” Anthony said.
 
The government has come under attack for rejecting a plea for refugee status by hundreds of asylum seekers from Yemen who have made their way to the southern resort island of Jeju despite the Korean Church having supported them with food, lodging and jobs. 
 
Progressives have accused the authorities of buckling to xenophobic sentiment after Jeju locals protested their arrival earlier this year, The Associated Press reported on October 18.
 
The government has extended many of them temporary visas and shown leniency to illegal Thai migrant workers, whose numbers are said to be growing in South Korea, by allowing them to leave voluntarily despite having overstayed their visas without fear of punishment.

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