South Korea denies refugee status to Yemenis who arrived on Jeju

Elias Hubbard
October 19, 2018

Right: Members of a civic group host a rally in Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, on the same day to demand the revocation of the Refugee Act.

South Korea on Wednesday denied refugee status to almost 400 asylum seekers from war-torn Yemen months after their arrival on the resort island of Jeju sparked an anti-immigrant uproar.

"South Korea confers refugee status to only around 1 percent of applicants annually, marking one of lowest refugee acceptance rates among developed nations", Lee said. Of them, three left Korea on their own and 23 were granted one-year stays in the country for humanitarian reasons on September 14. Another 34 applications were rejected with no permits issued, and 85 cases are still being processed. "It's no different from the people of our own country half a century ago, when they wandered around foreign countries as refugees through war and division".

The office added that the one-year period granted can be shortened if "situations in Yemen improve enough for them to return home" or if they commit a crime here.

"We denounce the Justice Ministry for giving up on the safety of our people, being deceived by the fake refugees and saying they don't pose a terrorist threat", said Lee Hyeon-yeong, who helped organize a rally Thursday in Seoul. "Of them, 16 could not be investigated in time because they were at sea on fishing boats or temporarily out of the country for various reasons". Thrown off by the flood of arrivals, South Korea excluded Yemenis from the no-visa benefits in June and banned the asylum seekers from leaving the island.

Humanitarian stay permits are granted when asylum seekers fail to meet the criteria for official refugee status but are allowed to stay in the country due to other circumstances.

Among the total 481 Yemeni asylum seekers that applied for refugee status after arriving on Jeju Island from early this year, 365 are now allowed to stay in the country for a year. Jeju adopted a visa-free program in 2002 to boost tourism on the resort island. The only exception to the rule applies to North Korean defectors, who are automatically granted citizenship in the South.

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 whole process can take a few years.

Meanwhile, more than 1,200 Syrians staying in South Korea on humanitarian permits do not have proper access to medical care or education and can not invite their families to join them, Lee said. South Korea granted the same stay to 23 other Yemenis last month.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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