Gay S. Korean conscript wins refugee status in Canada

Seoul (Yonhap) – Canada awarded a South Korean man refugee status after he objected to the mandatory military service in his home country for being a pacifist and a homosexual, a local human rights group said Thursday.

The Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) granted the status in July 2009 to Kim Kyung-hwan, 31, saying the gay conscript is highly likely to face abuse and mistreatment back home, according to the Center for Military Human Rights in Korea, which brought the story to light two years after the fact.

In South Korea, all able-bodied South Korean young men are required by law to serve nearly two-year compulsory military service.

There have been many “conscientious objectors to military service” who chose to serve prison terms instead of entering the military against their political and religious beliefs. But Kim’s case marks the first time in the country that a man seeks shelter in a foreign country after rejecting military conscription due to his homosexuality, according to the rights group.

“Circumstances facing general South Korean conscripts, especially homosexual ones, are very worrisome,” the group quoted IRB as saying. “The applicant should serve in the military, if sent back to his own country, and he is highly likely to face abuses there.”

Delivering the approval, IRB quoted some research results that said Korea conscripts frequently fall victim to cruel treatment and harsh punishment, according to the human rights group. About 30-40 percent of draftees suffer physical punishment and nearly 60 percent of conscript deaths are suicides, it also noted.

“If a homosexual is expelled due to his sexual identity, he probably cannot enter into the public sphere such as employment or schools,” it said. Faced with a call to join the military, Kim, a student of a prestigious private university in South Korea, applied for the refugee status in Canada in 2006.

After receiving permanent resident status in the country, Kim has settled down there and is now juggling an academic course and a job, the human rights group said.

“Since I was little, I couldn’t sympathize with the military and war at all,” Kim said. “I have no regrets (about leaving South Korea) as I had great worries about possible human rights abuses I could have suffered as a homosexual.”

Source – Fridae