Published: Fri, October 19, 2018
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

After outcry, South Korea refuses refugee status for almost 400 Yemenis

After outcry, South Korea refuses refugee status for almost 400 Yemenis

South Korea's Justice Ministry on Wednesday said it would not grant refugee status to almost 400 Yemenis, instead saying it would issue one-year humanitarian stays to 339 of them.

Some 700,000 people signed a petition on the presidential website urging that the government tighten refugee laws.

The asylum seekers sparked an uproar in South Korea, mirroring immigration debates in the USA and Europe.

Jeju, an island better known for beach resorts, coral reefs and volcanic landscapes, was one of the few places that did not require advance visas for Yemenis, and they arrived by the hundreds earlier this year after a budget airline offered direct flights from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia - figuring it would be a springboard into mainland South Korea.

Refugee applications from 34 Yemenis were rejected as they either faced criminal charges or sought asylum for an economic objective though they can stably live in other countries.

The Yemenis had arrived on Jeju using the island's tourist policy that allows foreigners visa-free entry for up to 30 days.

According to the government, the Yemenis are NOT being given official refugee status, but the humanitarian stay permits allow them to stay in South Korea. "But among the Yemenis assessed on the island this year and granted temporary stays in the country for humanitarian reasons, including the 339 this time and the 23 last time, none have appealed the decision to the Justice Ministry". The only exception to the rule applies to North Korean defectors, who are automatically granted citizenship in the South. Some 34 were rejected outright, but 339 were given humanitarian stay permits.

Protests have followed in Jeju and in the capital, Seoul, in which demonstrators called for deportation of the Yemenis, who are Muslims.

Ultimately, the Korean government did not grant asylum to any of them.

Nearly 70 years ago during a violent government crackdown on what they saw as a risky communist insurgency on Jeju, an estimated 5,000 to 10,000 islanders fled to Japan, Baek said. "That kind of message gives the general public the impression that refugees are potential criminals".

The adverse effects of refugee acceptance had been demonstrated all over Europe, party chairman Cho Kyoung-tae said in a local media report.

Before the one-year term expires, the asylum seekers will have to file a separate application should they want to remain in Korea longer.

"The judicial outcome appears to be a political decision rather than a legal conclusion based on objective principles", said Lee Il, a human rights lawyer with the Seoul-based Refugee Rights Network.

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