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Tuesday, July 9, 2024 | Back issues
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Resettled North Korean Loses U.S. Asylum Bid

(CN) - A North Korean refugee who sought U.S. asylum after he found that he hated life in capitalist South Korea failed to secure relief Tuesday from the Ninth Circuit.

Sung Kil Jang fled North Korean oppression in 1998 by swimming across a river into neighboring China.

He lived there for a year before making his way to South Korea, where his older sister and one of his brother's live.

Jang became a citizen of South Korea, receiving an engineering degree there, but the experience was apparently not a pleasant one.

After receiving a passport, Jang left South Korea and 2004 and entered the United States to seek asylum. He told U.S. immigration officials: "I do not like [South Korea] ... I don't have fear [living there], but I hate it."

The immigration judge in the case ordered Jang to return to South Korea, stating that he had become "firmly settled in South Korea."

Under U.S. law, North Koreans who relocated to South Korea were not able to seek asylum in the United States, the judge found.

In appealing that denial, Jang argued that there is only one Korea, and that the South and North are merely two parts of it. Indeed, this is a common belief in North Korea and the official position of the North Korean government.

Jang as such argued that he had not immigrated to another country when he resettled in South Korea, but merely moved within the same country.

Further Jang argued that the Human Rights Act of 2004 allowed North Koreans with dual citizenship the ability to seek asylum in the United States.

At a hearing in Pasadena last month, the Ninth Circuit found that Jang's case presented a legal issue of first impression: "Does section 302 of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 preclude a finding that a North Korean has 'firmly resettled' in South Korea, even though he otherwise meets the requirements of firm resettlement?"

Answer that question in the negative Tuesday, a three-judge panel denied Jang's petition for asylum.

Among "a wide range of rights" Jang enjoyed while in South Korea, the court noted that he attended college, got a job and associated with nearby family members, all of which meant Jang was "firmly resettled" under U.S. law and thus undeserving of asylum.

"When determining whether a person had firmly resettled, it does not matter whether the person is or is not a national of the country where resettlement is alleged to have occurred," Judge Susan Graber wrote for the panel. "Instead, the regulation asks only whether the person has received 'an offer' of some sort of permanent status."

The ruling notes that Jang's settlement in South Korea also predated the 2004 act, so it cannot apply to him.

Jang's attorney, Judith Wood, has not returned a request for comment.

Roughly 1,000 people flee into the South every year from North Korea, which is run by dictator and supposed living god Kim Jung Un. Technically, Jung Un's long-dead grandfather Kim Il Sung is still head of state as its "eternal president."

Current numbers represent a drop, as refugees figures averaged roughly 2,700 a year between 2008 and 2013.

A survey from March by the Korea Institute for National Unification - a South Korean think tank that studies relations between the two countries - found that many refugees from North Korea are not quite satisfied with their new homes in the South. The survey suggested that those who live in the South for more than four years are more likely to be satisfied with their adopted home.

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