Refugee boxer aims to be world champ
Cameroonian wins legal battle for refugee status
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.
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.