When Roots/Routes Matter: The Appearance and Disappearance of Asylum Seeking Families from North Korea in Canada

Monday, 16 July 2018: 11:15
Oral Presentation
Ann KIM, York University, Canada
Between 2010 and 2014, hundreds of asylum seekers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (a.k.a. North Korea) arrived in Canada, many with children, hoping to obtain refugee status. Some of the initial applicants were accepted while later applicants in this period have, for the most part, been rejected. Since 2013, Canada has been verifying fingerprints with the government of the Republic of Korea and discovered many asylum seekers, though not all, initially settled there; the Constitution of the ROK recognizes North Koreans as South Korean nationals. Since asylum seekers given legal status in one country cannot apply for asylum in another country, North Koreans who migrate through South Korea cannot obtain refugee status elsewhere; they are identified as South Korean. This effectively shuts Canada’s door and explains the drop in, and perhaps the end of, North Koreans seeking protection and settlement in Canada, at least for now, unless there is a policy shift, or a viable, alternate passage to Canada emerges; very few North Korean families have arrived in Canada since 2014.

Although larger refugee populations clearly deserve research attention, this brief and fleeting wave of North Koreans, who will soon escape research attention, also raises many questions for Canadian policy-makers and on the ground practitioners, who could influence Canada’s position. Canada’s policy is negotiable; the former Citizenship and Immigration Canada minister, Jason Kenney, claimed during the previous federal election that Canada would recognize North Koreans as refugees if the Conservative government is re-elected. This suggests that a larger wave could be in Canada’s future. This study's objective is to explore how domestic and international policies and refugee legalities affect the movement of North Korean refugee families to Canada and their settlement experiences.