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Prosecution indicts Egyptian refugee broker

Prosecutors on Thursday indicted an Egyptian broker who illegally helped other Egyptians enter South Korea as false refugees.

The Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office indicted the 29-year-old suspect, whose identification was withheld, on charges of allegedly providing fake immigration documents to 12 job-seeking Egyptians and supporting them to enter fraudulently as refugees. He and his Korean accomplice were found to have received up to $10,000 per person in return, they added.

Of the 12 illegal entrants, nine applied for the refugee status by falsely stating they were fleeing their country to avoid persecution. The other three disappeared immediately after arriving here, investigators said.

This marks the first case in which a refugee broker was caught here.

Under the Korean refugee law, refugee status can be granted to foreigners who are likely be persecuted on account of nationality, race, religion, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.

After joining the U.N. Refugee Convention in 1992, South Korea became the first Asian country to enact an independent refugee law in July 2013.

Since the refugee law went into effect, the number of refugee status requests per year has tripled to about 3,000. By July, the year’s number had already exceeded 2,600, they added.

The Korea Immigration Office suspects that over 80 percent of the refugee status-seekers are fake, the authorities said.

“The number of Egyptian refugee status applications is on the rise, with the majority seeking jobs here. Many cases are found to be those abusing the refugee law that does not force deportation against their will,” immigration office officials said.

Foreigners under fears of persecution are allowed to apply for refugee status at an airport or seaport upon arrival. They are also allowed to work here if the refugee screening takes over six months. Various benefits are also provided, ranging from education and job training to medical services.

As the government has tightened the refugee screening, the acceptance rate plummeted from 20 percent to around 4 percent in recent years. This year, only 51 foreigners or 1.9 percent were accepted as refugees, officials said.

By Lee Hyun-jeong (