An Iranian man in his 50s was granted an extension of his "humanitarian stay" in South Korea on Thursday, as the authorities stopped short of endorsing refugee status.
The 53-year-old is the father of an Iranian student who obtained refugee status last Oct. The son, aged 16, has the Korean name of Kim Min-hyuk.
They landed in South Korea in 2010 and both converted to Catholicism five years later.
Muslims who convert to another religion are charged as criminals in Iran and face harsh punishment up to execution under the strict Islamic Sharia law.
In 2016, they applied for refugee status, which would make them eligible for some social benefits, including living and medical cost subsidies.
The Korea Immigration Service, however, rejected their appeal, citing doubts about whether their Catholic faith is firm.
His son finally received the status amid support from his teacher and schoolmates as well as local Catholic circles.
But the agency again turned down the father's application, while letting him stay here for another year. Under the humanitarian stay permit, he can get a job.
It said his stated reason why he needs refugee status is not deemed to rise to the standard of "fear of persecution" as stipulated in the UN refugee convention.
He immediately protested the decision, telling reporters via his lawyer that he would file an administrative petition or even a lawsuit.
His son urged the government to grant him refugee status so that they can live together in South Korea with stability.
"I hope that my father, the sole family member, could have a better life by obtaining refugee status," Kim told reporters.
Their story has drawn keen public attention since the arrival of hundreds of Yemeni refugees in the southern island of Jeju last year. It has triggered a heated social debate about refugee issues in a traditionally homogenous country.
Some raised concerns about the possibility of a massive influx of bogus applicants seeking economic advantages and a potential increase in the number of crimes and other social problems. Others stressed that South Korea should play a more responsible role in such a global issue.
More than 16,000 foreign asylum seekers arriving in South Korea applied for refugee status here last year, up 62.7 percent from a year earlier, according to government data.
Of them, 144 foreign nationals obtained the status and 514 were granted humanitarian stay permits. (Yonhap)
Among the Yemenis, only two received refugee status while 412 people obtained temporary stay permits. (Yonhap)