Two Russian men who have been living in the secure airside area of Seoul’s Incheon Airport for nearly the past five months have been granted the right to apply for asylum in South Korea after fleeing Vladimir Putin’s military mobilization drive last September.
The plight of the men came to international prominence last month when it was revealed that South Korea’s Ministry of Justice had initially refused the asylum claims of at least five young Russian who had sought refuge in the country.
Having been refused entry to South Korea, the men were then stuck in the airside departures area of Incheon Airport while lawyers acting on their behalf appealed the decision in a local court.
Two of the five men awaiting decisions won their appeal on Tuesday and have now been allowed to leave the airport so that they can continue their asylum claims. A third Russian lost his case but has been given permission to appeal the decision and will remain stuck in Incheon.
The two remaining Russians who arrived in Seoul in November 2022 haven’t yet had their cases heard by the local court and are still living in the airport.
One of the young men, Vladimir Maraktaev, told the Korea Times that he originally crossed the Mongolian border to get out of Russia and then flew to the Philippines, where he spent several weeks before he bought a one-way ticket to Seoul.
Maraktaev arrived at Incheon Airport on November 12, 2022, and hasn’t left the airport since. He says he chose South Korea to apply for aslyum because of what he knew about the country’s democracy and respect for civil rights.
He didn’t realise, however, that despite South Korea being a signatory of the United Nations Refugee Convention, the country rejects the vast majority of asylum applications. In fact, in 2021, South Korea granted little more than 1 per cent of asylum applications made in the country.
The Ministry of Justice says it initially rejected the asylum applications of the Russians because it does not recognise fleeing a legal military draft as an adequate reason to seek refugee status.
Lawyers representing the men, however, argue the men face persecution in Russia based on their perceived political opinion.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.