A group of three public interest lawyers has for the past one year assisted refugees in gaining recognition of their refugee status through filing administrative litigation as well as providing legal assistance to those who escaped persecution in their home countries. The group was also responsible in building the foundation to the first ever Korean Migration Act passed last year.
One and a half years later, the group succeeded in establishing itself as an organisation called ‘Advocates for Public Interest Law’ (APIL) with the support of 200 supporters. This is an important progress for the future of refugee rights movement in Korea considering the days of solely relying on temporary financial support from businesses to run its ‘Incubating Program’. APIL’s ‘belated’ first anniversary event was attended by those whose status as a refugee have been formally recognised, as well as more than 250 members of various advocacy groups. Kim Jong-Chul, a lawyer representing the organisation, expressed that the event signified a recognition of APIL’s achievements.
Previously, APIL experienced difficulty in establishing itself as a legitimate foundation and thereafter, future plans were put on hold (including the first anniversary event) because they could not easily afford the operating costs involved. “I remember APIL staff running from law firm to law firm in hope of getting second-hand laptops for our office”, Chul said. It is no surprise APIl encountered difficulty in gaining support from a third party given the developing culture of sponsorship in Korea, especially support for refugees in which little attention is paid. The reason behind APIL’s strong presence in the advocacy scene is attributed to Kim’s personal financial contribution which amounted to 60% of the operating funds of the organisation, as well as monthly donations of up to 50,000 won from 200 supporters. Gathering up supporters was a complicated process in itself. Kim built a group of supporters and donors as he visited law schools around the country to deliver lectures on refugee and public interest laws in which he was not comfortable to do at first because it might seem like he was giving “fake” lectures for the sake of rounding up donations.
Kim stated APIL’s mission is to represent and fixate the rights of refugees, “stateless persons”, illegal immigrants and foreigners. More than 10 refugees, through APIL’s assistance, were granted refugee status in Korea in the last year. The organisation’s proposals in their report on children in detention was reflected in the provisions of the Committee on the Rights of the Child last October. APIL is currently researching on foreigner trafficking prevention measures in collaboration with the Korean Institute of Criminology.