Tuesday, 11 August 2015

South Korea: Dead homeless foreigner remains unidentified

Late last month, a homeless foreigner who called himself “Thomas” died of biliary tract cancer in a public hospital in northern Seoul. He was brought to the hospital after experiencing severe pain and constantly shaking his hands.

Thomas had claimed that he was an Israeli in his 60s who came to Seoul to run an English education-related business, according to city officials. He had added that he ended up on the streets after the business failed.

Upon his death, the Seoul Metropolitan Government faced difficulties in managing follow-up procedures as they failed to identify his personal information. The case also brought to light a number of other similar cases, where the city has faced issues of unidentifiable foreigners who have gone homeless and died.

So far, the city has found out that he was not an Israeli. The city requested the Embassy of Israel to conduct an identification process of Thomas in order to hand over the body to his home country, but the embassy replied that he was not one of its citizens.

There were no other identification clues as Thomas had adamantly refused to reveal his personal information as well as family information, public shelter officials said. The foreigner identification number that Thomas had provided in the medical document was also found to be wrong.

Although the city found a British passport among Thomas’ belongings, it was confirmed to be counterfeit, they added.

Under the current law, the dead bodies of the Korean homeless are managed by city districts. If a family member does not show up within a month, the bodies are cremated and kept in a charnel house for 10 years in case any acquaintances appear.

Such regulations, however, are not applicable to foreigners.

“There’s nothing that the city can do as there are no particular manuals or rules stated over how to handle the dead bodies of the foreign homeless. Regarding the body handover, some embassies are also reluctant to take them,” a Seoul City official told The Korea Herald.

“For now, the city has requested the police to help identify Thomas. In the meantime, we will give our utmost efforts to find his family or acquaintances,” she added.

As of February, 25 foreigners have been found homeless, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government. Of them, Chinese and Mongolians accounted for the most with 17, followed by Taiwanese and Americans.

Seoul City launched a probe after a Taiwanese person was found frozen to death on a street in January.

“The number does not suggest an accurate count as it only includes those the city has spotted on the street,” the city official added.

As more deaths of foreign homeless are reported, the government needs to prepare for regulations for the after-death management process for them, experts said.

“Regardless of the nationality check, the foreign homeless also have human rights and dignity to pursue. The after-death handling should be ensured the same as the local homeless,” said the Korea Human Rights Policy Institute.

Tuesday 11 August 2015



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