The Long Way to Refugee Status Acquisition and Mental Health in Post-Migration: Based on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in South Korea


Apart from North Korean defectors, South Korea is becoming a destination for Asylum seekers from all over the world. However, 1 out of 220 asylum applicants receives recognition through long and arduous administration and litigation process while being underrepresented in any kind of support services.

This particular study comparatively tested the mental health status of recognized refugees(n = 45) and Asylum applicants (n = 55) to determine if the acquisition of refugee status could make a difference in their overall quality of life. We first employed the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Test and then applied an independent t-test using SPSS 22 software.

As a result, there is a statistically significant difference in the mean scores of depression and anxiety. However, the stress scale did not show a statistical significance--indicating there are still lingering stressing factors even after the acquisition of refugee status. Ways and preconditions to improve the mental health service for asylum seekers and refugees are suggested at the end of the paper.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Access options

Buy single article

Instant unlimited access to the full article PDF.

US$ 39.95

Price includes VAT for USA

Subscribe to journal

Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.

US$ 99

This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.

Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    UNHCR. Figures at glance. 2019; Retrieved from:

  2. 2.

    NANCEN. [statistics] refugees in Korea (as of December 31, 2018). 2019; retrieved from http://www.nancen.org4.

  3. 3.


  4. 4.

    NANCEN. [Statistics] Refugees in Korea (as of December 31, 2017). 2018, March 09; Retrieved from NANCEN:

  5. 5.

    Yang, B.-H. Asylum seekers has been increased to 10 times, the acceptance is only 0.9%. 2015, September 08; HANKYUNG.

  6. 6.

    Schattle H, McCann J. The pursuit of state status and the shift toward international norms: South Korea’s evolution as a host country for refugees. J Refug Stud. 2013 Jun 12;27(3):317–37.

  7. 7.

    Hui, J. J. "Controversy on Refugee policy in South Korea. 2015 November 23; Asia Today.

  8. 8.

    Ha-young Choi. Korea's refugee system has a long way to go. 2018, June 4; KOREAN TIMES. Retrieved from HYPERLINK

  9. 9.


  10. 10.


  11. 11.

    Kirmayer LJ, Narasiah L, Munoz M, Rashid M, Ryder AG, Guzder J, et al. Common mental health problems in immigrants and refugees: general approach in primary care. Cmaj. 2011 Sep 6;183(12):E959–67.

  12. 12.

    Shawyer F, Enticott JC, Block AA, Cheng IH, Meadows GN. The mental health status of refugees and asylum seekers attending a refugee health clinic including comparisons with a matched sample of Australian-born residents. BMC Psychiatry. 2017 Dec;17(1):76.

  13. 13.

    Turrini G, et al. Common mental disorders in asylum seekers and refugees: umbrella review of prevalence and intervention studies. Int J Ment Heal Syst. 2017 Dec;11(1):51.

  14. 14.

    Ju, O. H. Asylum seekers struggle for refugee status in Korea. 2015, Oct 13; The Korea Herald.

  15. 15.

    Silove D, Ventevogel P, Rees S. The contemporary refugee crisis: an overview of mental health challenges. World Psychiatry. 2017 Jun;16(2):130–9.

  16. 16.

    Mollica RF, Donelan K, Tor S, Lavelle J, Elias C, Frankel M, et al. The effect of trauma and confinement on functional health and mental health status of Cambodians living in Thailand-Cambodia border camps. Jama. 1993 Aug 4;270(5):581–6.

  17. 17.

    Mollica RF, et al. Dose-effect relationships of trauma to symptoms of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder among Cambodian survivors of mass violence. Br J Psychiatry. 1998 Dec;173(6):482–8.

  18. 18.

    Beiser M. The health of immigrants and refugees in Canada. Can J Public Health. 2005 Mar 1;96(2):S30–44.

  19. 19.

    Porter M, Haslam N. Predisplacement and postdisplacement factors associated with mental health of refugees and internally displaced persons: a meta-analysis. Jama. 2005 Aug 3;294(5):602–12.

  20. 20.

    Fazel M, Wheeler J, Danesh J. Prevalence of serious mental disorder in 7000 refugees resettled in western countries: a systematic review. Lancet. 2005 Apr 9;365(9467):1309–14.

  21. 21.

    Steel Z, Chey T, Silove D, Marnane C, Bryant RA, van Ommeren M. Association of torture and other potentially traumatic events with mental health outcomes among populations exposed to mass conflict and displacement: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Jama. 2009 Aug 5;302(5):537–49.

  22. 22.

    Steel Z, Silove D, Bird K, McGorry P, Mohan P. Pathways from war trauma to posttraumatic stress symptoms among Tamil asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants. J Trauma Stress. 1999 Jul 1;12(3):421–35.

  23. 23.

    Silove D, Steel Z, Watters C. Policies of deterrence and the mental health of asylum seekers. Jama. 2000 Aug 2;284(5):604–11.

  24. 24.

    Steel Z, Silove D, Phan T, Bauman A. Long-term effect of psychological trauma on the mental health of Vietnamese refugees resettled in Australia: a population-based study. Lancet. 2002 Oct 5;360(9339):1056–62.

  25. 25.

    Momartin S, Silove D, Manicavasagar V, Steel Z. Dimensions of trauma associated with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caseness, severity and functional impairment: a study of Bosnian refugees resettled in Australia. Soc Sci Med. 2003 Sep 1;57(5):775–81.

  26. 26.

    Steel Z, et al. Impact of immigration detention and temporary protection on the mental health of refugees. Br J Psychiatry. 2006 Jan;188(1):58–64.

  27. 27.

    Schweitzer R, Melville F, Steel Z, Lacherez P. Trauma, post-migration living difficulties, and social support as predictors of psychological adjustment in resettled Sudanese refugees. Aust N Z J Psychiatr. 2006 Feb;40(2):179–87.

  28. 28.

    Laban CJ, Gernaat HB, Komproe IH, Schreuders BA, de Jong JT. Impact of a long asylum procedure on the prevalence of psychiatric disorders in Iraqi asylum seekers in the Netherlands. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2004 Dec 1;192(12):843–51.

  29. 29.

    Robjant K, Hassan R, Katona C. Mental health implications of detaining asylum seekers: systematic review. Br J Psychiatry. 2009 Apr;194(4):306–12.

  30. 30.

    Cleveland J, Rousseau C. Psychiatric symptoms associated with brief detention of adult asylum seekers in Canada. Can J Psychiatry. 2013 Jul;58(7):409–16.

  31. 31.

    Reesp S. Refuge or retrauma? The impact of asylum seeker status on the wellbeing of East Timorese women asylum seekers residing in the Australian community. Australasian Psychiatry. 2003 Jan 1;11(sup1):S96–101.

  32. 32.

    Li SS, Liddell BJ, Nickerson A. The relationship between post-migration stress and psychological disorders in refugees and asylum seekers. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2016 Sep 1;18(9):82.

  33. 33.

    Fazel M, Silove D. Detention of refugees: Australia has given up mandatory detention because it damages detainees' mental health. BMJ: Br Med J. 2006;332(7536):251–2.

  34. 34.

    Kim HH, Lee YJ, Kim HK, Kim JE, Kim SJ, Bae SM, et al. Prevalence and correlates of psychiatric symptoms in North Korean defectors. Psychiatry Investig. 2011 Sep;8(3):179–85.

  35. 35.

    Jeon WT, Eom JS, Min SK. A 7-year follow-up study on the mental health of north Korean defectors in South Korea. J Trauma Stress. 2013 Feb;26(1):158–64.

  36. 36.

    Choi SK, Min SJ, Cho MS, Joung H, Park SM. Anxiety and depression among north Korean young defectors in South Korea and their association with health-related quality of life. Yonsei Med J. 2011 May 1;52(3):502–9.

  37. 37.

    Song BA, Yoo SY, Kang HY, Byeon SH, Shin SH, Hwang EJ, et al. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and heart-rate variability among north Korean defectors. Psychiatry Investig. 2011 Dec;8(4):297–304.

  38. 38.

    Lovibond PF, Lovibond SH. The structure of negative emotional states: comparison of the depression anxiety stress scales (DASS) with the Beck depression and anxiety inventories. Behav Res Ther. 1995 Mar 1;33(3):335–43.

  39. 39.

    Lovibond PF. Long-term stability of depression, anxiety, and stress syndromes. J Abnorm Psychol. 1998 Aug;107(3):520.

  40. 40.

    Crawford JR, Henry JD. The depression anxiety stress scales (DASS): normative data and latent structure in a large non-clinical sample. Br J Clin Psychol. 2003 Jun;42(2):111–31.

  41. 41.

    Ellis PM, et al. Mental health in New Zealand from a public health perspective. Wellington: Public Health Group, Ministry of Health; 1997.

  42. 42.

    Cheung P. Acculturation and psychiatric morbidity among Cambodian refugees in New Zealand. Int J Soc Psychiatry. 1995 Jun;41(2):108–19.

  43. 43.

    Williams CL, Berry JW. Primary prevention of acculturative stress among refugees: application of psychological theory and practice. Am Psychol. 1991 Jun;46(6):632–41.

  44. 44.

    Keyes EF. Mental health status in refugees: an integrative review of current research. Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2000 Jan 1;21(4):397–410.

  45. 45.

    Hui, J. Misunderstanding and truth towards refugee policies in South Korea. 2015, October 14. Asia Today.

  46. 46.

    Jackson K. Fate, spirits and curses: mental health and traditional beliefs in some refugee communities. Auckland Refugees As Survivors Centre; 2006.

  47. 47.

    Pedersen P. A handbook for developing multicultural awareness. American Association for Counseling; 1988.

  48. 48.

    Lee J, Choi M. Recommendations for interpreter training for asylum interview settings: The South Korean case.

  49. 49.

    Newman MG. Recommendations for a cost-offset model of psychotherapy allocation using generalized anxiety disorder as an example. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2000 Aug;68(4):549–55.

  50. 50.

    Scogin FR, Hanson A, Welsh D. Self-administered treatment in stepped-care models of depression treatment. J Clin Psychol. 2003 Mar;59(3):341–9.

  51. 51.

    Simon GE, Katon WJ, VonKorff M, Unützer J, Lin EH, Walker EA, et al. Cost-effectiveness of a collaborative care program for primary care patients with persistent depression. Am J Psychiatr. 2001 Oct 1;158(10):1638–44.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Israel Fisseha Feyissa.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of Interest

There is no conflict of interest to disclose for this research. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional review board of Chonbuk national university (reference number: 2018–11–016-001) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Again, informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Yoon, M.S., Feyissa, I.F. & Jung, E.H. The Long Way to Refugee Status Acquisition and Mental Health in Post-Migration: Based on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in South Korea. Psychiatr Q (2020) doi:10.1007/s11126-020-09714-9

Download citation


  • Post-migration
  • Refugee status acquisition
  • Mental health
  • Recognized refugees
  • Asylum seekers