Nothing against the person specifically, but doesn't this open the door wide for more claimants who don't get "adequate" medical care at home? Did Canada suddenly become "Democracy's Hospital?" The defense made by comparing this case and the Ethiopian isn't sufficient as well, since Ethiopians need a visa to get here I think.Korean's refugee status upheld in historic case
Ruling that South Korea's treatment of mentally ill patients amounts to persecution could encourage more claimants
By Richard J. Dalton Jr., Vancouver Sun
June 20, 2009 10:13 AM
Canada has granted refugee status to a mentally ill South Korean woman and her daughter on grounds the treatment of psychiatric patients and family members in their homeland is so shoddy it amounts to persecution.
Mi Sook Oh, 42, initially sought refugee status in Canada by claiming she had been persecuted in her native South Korea by a church representative who had "poisoned everyone against her" and had been arrested and held three times against her will.
People around the world knew about her case and her tormenter had close ties to the Bush administration, she told the refugee board two years ago.
The Immigration and Refugee Board determined she was, in fact, persecuted -- not by a church representative, but by a South Korean health care system that mistreats mentally ill patients.
Oh suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and had been been forced into mental institutions three times in South Korea without medication, the refugee board concluded.
Based on that mistreatment, the board granted Oh refugee status in October.
The Minister of Citizenship and Immigration appealed the decision.
And, last month, a federal judge ruled in favour of Oh.
The case highlights the poor treatment of mentally ill patients in countries such as South Korea.
Documents submitted in the case say Korea illegally and forcefully hospitalizes mentally ill patients, refuses to discharge patients, forges medical records and unreasonably limits patients' correspondence. Patients also suffer frequent violence, Oh's advocates said.
South Koreans with mental illness are treated as an extreme underclass, with one hospital room sleeping 100 women with just 15 mats and no room for personal belongings, according to a letter submitted to the board and written by Daniel Fisher, executive director the National Empowerment Center in Lawrence, Mass.
Oh's 15-year-old daughter also faced difficulties as the child of a mentally ill person in South Korea. So the board granted the daughter refugee status, concluding her basic human rights were violated in South Korea.
Under state care, the daughter wasn't sent to school and had inadequate housing, sleeping on a floor in a room with several other children, according to the refugee board's ruling. No one would tell her where her mother was, and she was afraid, but received no emotional support.
The Oh case opens the door to other mentally ill people from South Korea seeking refugee status in Canada, said Richard Kurland, an immigration and policy analyst and lawyer.
"What's unusual is the precedent that a Korean, female, mentally challenged person is expected to receive such treatment in Korea so as to amount to persecution," he said.
Kurland said the immigration minister appealed the decision to prevent similar future claims. "They likely were concerned about the floodgate potential the case represents," he said.
South Koreans do not require a visa to visit Canada, making it easier to enter and claim refugee status, he said.
The citizenship and immigration minister rarely appeals decisions by the refugee board, and it's even rarer for the minister to lose, Kurland said.
"They rolled the dice, and they lost, and they lost big," he said.
Helen Park, a Department of Justice lawyer who represented the citizenship and immigration minister in the case, seeking to deny Oh refugee status, said the department is usually responding to claimants' appeals, not filing appeals.
She said the appeal hung on one argument: Whether or not Korea provides adequate protection to mentally ill patients.
The minister of immigration's appeal claimed the refugee board had required a standard of "perfect" protection for those who are mentally ill.
The refugee board said South Korea was trying to improve its care for people with mental illness, but still doesn't provide adequate protection.
"The judge said the board's decision was reasonable," Park said.
This decision means Koreans with mental illnesses can become refugees while other potential immigrants with mental illnesses who are seeking residency under categories such as that for skilled workers, could be denied entry if immigration officials determine the mental illness could be too expensive for the health care system or social services, Kurland said.
Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees in Montreal, said the case does not set a precedent for foreigners using mental illness as a basis for seeking refugee status in Canada.
In fact, in 2007, an Ethiopian woman was granted refugee status in Canada, ruling discrimination against psychiatric patients in the African country amounted to persecution.
Lobat Sadrehashemi, a lawyer for the Pivot Legal LLP who represented Oh, wouldn't comment on the case.
Kwon Jang, consul at the South Korean embassy in Vancouver, said he's familiar with Oh and believes she is mentally ill.
But he said South Korea adequately cares for people with mental illnesses.
"I think the mental ill people are well taken care of in my country - better than in Canada," he said. "So I cannot believe her story."
Oh's story in Vancouver goes back to April 2007, when Oh and her daughter, whom The Sun will not identify as she is a minor, arrived in Canada. They sought refugee status four months later, initially without a lawyer.
At a refugee board hearing in March 2008, Oh testified that a representative of the Full Gospel Church in South Korea had persecuted her.
"Our case is related to American politicians and American religious leaders," she told the board.
"Okay," the refugee official responded. "Now that sounds crazy to me."
Oh said the three middle digits of her social insurance number were the same as her address in South Korea and that licence plates on cars often would have the same three digits. "They are teasing me, you know," she said.
When Oh was told the board wouldn't make its decision immediately, she became agitated and even hit and pushed her daughter, who was trying to calm her.
After the incident, Oh was hospitalized for mental illness and diagnosed with schizophrenia and chronic paranoid delusions. Her daughter was cared for by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.
Her discharge notice says she remained paranoid but her delusions didn't affect her life "beyond her need to escape the perceived persecution from Korea."
Oh has maintained a blog, misookzoe.blogspot.com, for two years. The most recent entry is brief: "Federal court accepted us as Protected Persons. We won."
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