The Republic of Korea took aggressive action early on in the Covid-19 outbreak to limit the progress of the coronavirus, including adopting strict border control and immigration detention measures.
On 1 April, the government adopted a rule that requires all overseas arrivals—including South Koreans—to quarantine at home or at government-designated facilities for two weeks. Reports indicate that the rule may not have been communicated properly to all incoming passengers, resulting in some foreign nationals being unexpectedly quarantined in government facilities upon arrival. Those refusing to enter the government quarantine are being summarily deported, when possible.
According to the lawyers groups Advocates for Public Interest Law (APIL), one of the measures taken by immigration authorities is to accelerate the deportation process for detainees. In reality, however, it has been difficult to carry out this measure, because of the lack of carriers, which fly from Korea to countries of origin.
In an email to the Global Detention Project, APIL reported that on 26 February, two days after the alert level regarding Covid-19 raised from precaution to severe, which is the highest level, Hwasung Detention Center, the largest immigration detention facility in the country, detailed a plan to address to the crisis, which is expected to be followed in other detention centres as well. This plan includes:
• halting all detention visitation
• increasing sanitization of the facility.
• minimizing mobility of detainees, e.g., appearing to the court room for hearing.
• prompt deportation of the uninfected detainees, in particular, prolonged detained, i.e., migrants detained for two months or more.
• securing more medical supplies.
• separating new arrivals from existing detainees.
• putting into quarantine detainees for at least 14 days who have Covid 19 related symptoms including people in close proximity/ contact with the detainees.
• locking down cella detaining person people who are confirmed case of Covid 19
• being lenient in granting temporary release of detainees
• minimizing crack down on undocumented migrants
Immigration authorities reportedly only test detainees who have Covid 19 related symptoms.
According to APIL), “It is safe to say that South Korea has not adopted new immigration and/or asylum policies in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Surprisingly the immigration authorities seem to believe that immigration detention facilities are safer places than outside. Even though they planned to be lenient to grant temporary release to detainees, the number of detainees who have been permitted temporary release since the plan was set is very small, i.e., two or three under the same conditions as before like requesting bail and guarantor.”
- Justin McCurry, “South Korea bars entry to foreign nationals who refuse to self-isolate,” The Guardian, 3 April 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/03/south-korea-bars-entry-foreign-nationals-refusing-self-isolate
- Global Detention Project, Immigration Detention in South Korea, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/asia-pacific/republic-of-korea-south-korea