Refugee boxer aims to be world champ

Cameroo­nian wins le­gal bat­tle for refugee sta­tus

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Kim Jae-heun

Ab­doulaye As­san, a boxer from Cameroon, said he has a dream to be­come a world cham­pion, af­ter ob­tain­ing his refugee sta­tus in Korea, Wed­nes­day.

“I want to fight for the world ti­tle like my two fa­vorite box­ers May­weather and Pac­quiao. They have two dif­fer­ent styles but they are re­spected box­ers,” he said dur­ing an in­ter­view with The Korea Times, Wed­nes­day, the day he won refugee sta­tus in Korea.

As­san, bet­ter known as Lee Heuk-san here, be­came the cham­pion in Korea’s su­per wel­ter­weight division, which was hosted by Box­ing Man­age­ment Korea, May 27. It only took six months to lift As­san to the top with the help of coach Thomas Lee of Art Box­ing Gym.

As­san’s first Korean cham­pion ti­tle de­fense match is set as a char­ity event to help poor chil­dren suf­fer­ing from in­cur­able dis­eases.

The Cameroo­nian boxer de­cided to do­nate half of his fight money to a mid­dle school stu­dent suf­fer­ing rick­ets he met through ChildFund Korea.

The boxer, who said he used to fight for FAP, or Cameroon’s mil­i­tary po­lice team, said he could not help think­ing about his daugh­ter who died of that same ill­ness last year in Cameroon.

“I am go­ing to fight to win,” As­san said.

The box­ing match will be held in Chun­cheon, Gang­won Prov­ince, on Aug. 5.

As­san has fought a long le­gal bat­tle for refugee sta­tus as the Korean im­mi­gra­tion of­fice re­jected him at his ini­tial screen­ing in 2015. He came close to be­ing de­ported back to Cameroon.

He raised an ob­jec­tion to the im­mi­gra­tion of­fice’s first de­ci­sion and went on to ap­peal it as he knew he’d face im­pris­on­ment or even death if he is re­turned to his home­land.

The Cameroo­nian boxer had planned to es­cape from his na­tional team from the first mo­ment he was of­fered to par­tic­i­pate in the In­terna- tional Mil­i­tary Sports Coun­cil (CISM) World Games held in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Prov­ince, in Oc­to­ber 2015.

“I came to Korea to par­tic­i­pate in the com­pe­ti­tion, but I was go­ing to leave the FAP and Cameroon,” As­san said in Novem­ber 2015 dur­ing an in­ter­view with an im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cial in Seoul.

“The FAP team re­stricted me from par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­pe­ti­tions they did not ap­prove of, and if I did the mil­i­tary would jail me. I was not a sol­dier and I was only in the mil­i­tary po­lice team. But I was forced to be­have like one and I did not re­ceive any pay­ment or treat­ment that other sol­diers en­joy,” he said.

“If I had stayed on the FAP team, I would have not been able to keep my ca­reer as a boxer and would be tossed off the team when I get old.”

The FAP once jailed As­san for a week af­ter he fought at a pri­vate box­ing com­pe­ti­tion in 2009. He nei­ther stood trial nor had a chance to ap­peal. The Cameroo­nian boxer ar­gued it was an ar­bi­trary de­ci­sion by the mil­i­tary.

As­san started to en­gage in com­bat sports in 2002 or 2003, and he com­peted at a pri­vate box­ing club un­til the FAP scouted him in 2004.

As­san, born to a poor fam­ily and raised by his grand­mother, was of­fered hous­ing and salary when he joined the mil­i­tary po­lice club. How­ever, it only lasted a year.

“I did not know I would not be able to par­tic­i­pate in pri­vate box­ing con­tests and they promised me I would be­come a sol­dier if I join the club,” As­san said.

As­san tried to leave the mil­i­tary po­lice team once, but his su­pe­rior threat­ened to end As­san’s ca­reer.

Af­ter As­san ar­rived in Korea and aban­doned the FAP, he came to Cheo­nan, South Chungcheong Prov­ince, where he trained at HULK box­ing gym for a year and four months un­til Korean coach Thomas Lee of Art Box­ing Gym spot­ted him seven months ago.

Lee ap­proached As­san for a busi­ness deal at first.

“Peo­ple say I am a great man but I only saw Heuk-san as a busi­ness propo­si­tion. I was busy liv­ing for my­self,” Lee said.

“When I first saw him, he had a great physique, some­thing Asians don’t have. Heuk-san was not young but he was des­per­ate to win the cham­pi­onship ti­tle. Be­com­ing a Korean cham­pion would not di­rectly help him earn refugee sta­tus but he hoped it would pos­i­tively af­fect his ap­peal to stay in Korea.”

Lee set up in­ter­views with the media and put As­san on TV to in­form the na­tion about his sit­u­a­tion. The vet­eran coach knew form­ing pub­lic opin­ion could help him be­come ac­cepted here. Dur­ing that process, as he got to know about As­san’s sit­u­a­tion bet­ter, Lee thought about adopt­ing him if the Cameroo­nian boxer failed to earn refugee sta­tus.

“It is eas­ier to adopt Heuk-san than nat­u­ral­ize him as a Korean cit­i­zen,” Lee said.

Cour­tesy of Box­ing Man­age­ment Korea

A referee raises the arm of boxer Ab­doulaye As­san, a refugee from Cameroon, af­ter he won a bout in Dae­jeon, April 12. As­san, also known as Lee Heuk-san here, won refugee sta­tus from Korean au­thor­i­ties Wed­nes­day.

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