A petition,“I petition for the abolishment or amendment of Refugee Act, visa-free entry system, and permission of application for official refugee status,” was posted on the Blue House petition board.
/Extracted from the Blue House petition board
“I petition for the abolishment or amendment of Refugee Act, visa-free entry system, and permission of applicaion for official refugee status.” This is a petition posted on the Chong Wa Dae (the Blue House) petition board after over 500 Yemeni refugees entered Jeju Island this year. Since it was the first time that such a huge number of refugees entered Korea, about 710 thousand people participated in the petition expressing their worries about accepting the Yemeni refugees. Even now, lots of people demand that the government should make some measures to settle this problem. For this reason, The Dongguk Post has highlighted how the refugees entered Korea and the reaction of the Korean government and people to the situation.
Yemeni civil war resulted in many refugees
Refugees are people who leave their countries due to natural disaster, war or other political issues, and move to other nations to stay there. However, not every refugee can stay in other countries. They have to be legally qualified as an official refugee depending on the individual law of the country where they intend to stay. They have to leave the country if they are not qulified as “official refugees.” After they apply for the official refugee status and are accepted, they can get a job and live in that country.
Yemen is one of the countries that many war refugees are from because Yemen has been in a civil war since 2015. According to The UN Refugee Agency, the number of casualties from the Yemen civil war is about ten thousand and the number of refugees is around 270 thousand. Because of this civil war, a great number of Yemeni refugees went to other countries and 500 of those, entered Jeju Island, Korea, and applied for the official refugee status.
Yemeni refugees entered Jeju Island through visa-free entry system
Most of the applicants for refugee status on Jeju Island had stayed in Malaysia for several months before entering Jeju. Actually, refugees should have a visa if they want to stay in other countries in principle. However, the Yemeni refugees could have stayed in Malaysia without visa for 90 days since Malaysia introduced a visa-free entry system.
As the period of stay in Malaysia ended, the refugees had to leave Malaysia and enter another country. In this situation, they chose to enter Jeju Island in Korea. Then, why did they choose this place? This is because Jeju Island has the visa-free entry system like the case of Malaysia. In addition, there was a Malaysia-Jeju Island direct flight, which started operating last year. Therefore, Yemeni refugees could enter Jeju without any restriction unlike entering the other nations.
According to the Korea Immigration Service, from January to May in 2018, the number of refugees who applied for the official refugee status is 942 and among those, the number of Yemeni refugees is 552. As too many Yemeni refugees came to Jeju, Korean government permitted them to get a job temporaily. Also, the government prohibited them to move to other parts of Korea, since a visa-free entry system is applied only to Jeju Island.
Refugee Act of Korea attracted many Yemeni refugees
Besides the fact that it is easy to enter Korea due to the visa-free entry system, Korea can legally guarantee to protect the refugees, too. In 1992, Korea joined the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” an international convention to protect the rights of refugees. Since then, refugees could apply for official refugee status in Korea. A country which joins the convention has a duty to judge whether the person who applies for official refugee status is qualified.
Also, Korea is the only Asian country that enacts Refugee Act. Right after joining the “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,” Korea merely permitted refugees to “stay” in Korea, but the government did not provide social welfare to them. However, since 2006, “Non Governmental Organization Network,” which is an organization for improving the refugee policy, was formed and they have worked to protect the securities of refugees. While holding a forum to develop the rights of refugees and preparing for fundamental studies of making the law, the Refugee Act was able to be enacted in 2012.
After the formation of the law, it describes the social welfares of official refugees as well as the applicants for official refugee status. The applicants can get the cost of living and medical aid. Also, language barrier between the judges and applicants was able to be solved in refugee interviews since an interpretation system was introduced. If they are approved as official refugees, their spouse and children are permitted to enter Korea legally except some cases such as having disease, drug or gun. These legal supports to the refugees help settlement of them more stable than they did in other countries. Therefore, the existence of the law can be one of the reasons why many refugees choose Korea.
Positive stance about the entry of Yemeni refugees
There are some people who shout out for the acceptance of Yemeni refugees. They are the human rights activists. Along with them, some students supported the refugees, entry to Korea. Kim Yoo-jin (Sophomore, Department of Nursing) of Yonsei University revealed, “We were also those who got support from the other countries. Now it is time for us to help others as we were supported in the past.” Furthermore, there is a report which states that refugees do contribute to the economy of a country in a positive way. According to the research done by the Tent Foundation, the non-governmental organization for the refugees, there are several advantages for our economy, specifically gross domestic product. The first one would be to solve the manpower shortage. For developed countries, it is true that they are going through an aging population problem. This fact implies that the working population would decrease. In this way, the refugees, who are generally the youth, could be a good help. They could also be helpful for sectors such as 3D (Dirty, Dangerous, and Demanding), since these sectors are suffering from workforce shortage. The demand and the supply of the workforce for the country would be fulfilled by the refugees staying the country. There was an anti-protest assembly to support to accept the refugees in Jong-no on June 30th, which was the same day that people held a demonstration against the refugees only 70 meters away.
People are protesting to urge for the abolition of the visa-free entry system and the Refugee Act on August 11th at Seoul Station Plaza.
/Photograph by Yu Na-kyung
Pessimistic attitude about the entry of Yemeni refugees
Negative opinions for accepting Yemeni refugees were predominant in public opinion. Those who call for the Yemenites to leave out Korea stated that the Yemeni refugees could misuse the Refugee Act. Currently, Jeju Island allows visa-free entry system according to “Special Law of Jeju Liberal City” with exception of designated 11 countries. According to the Refugee Act, applicants for official refugee status can stay at the protective facility up to six months. They cannot be sent back by force. If they proceed to an administrative litigation, they can stay longer than six months. People who are against the Yemeni refugees insist that during this period, there could be problems just like what illegal immigrants did. They think that after the immigrants entered Korea, a lot of crime cases by them were reported. They are not sure that the Yemenites would not do such things.
Another factor that makes people say no to acceptance of the refugees is “Muslim Phobia.” As reported by a public opinion poll in The JongAng Ilbo, in which people were asked whether they are hostile or not to the Muslim refugees, 66.6 percent of people responded they are hostile to them. They supported their opinion with precedent examples such as November 2015 Paris attacks and New Year’s Eve sexual assaults in Germany. In 2015, the Islamic State, so-called “IS,” carried out a series of coordinated terrorist attacks at the several crowded places of Paris. The attackers killed 130 people. From that time on, till this May, 240 people were killed by continuous attacks. Also, Taharrush Gamea, known as Muslim Rape Game, is another incident that frightened people who oppose to accept the refugees. Back in 2016, people gathered in the square for the New Year’s Celebration at Cologne, Germany. However, there were approximately 800 cases of sexual assault reported in the day. It turned out that the suspects were Muslim immigrants of the Middle East and Northern Africa. The majority of them claimed themselves as “refugees.”
In regard to this issue, Kim Chae-young (Junior, Department of Computer Science) of the State University of New York spoke, “Some say that these cases are only minimal. I know that we should not judge a book by its cover, but reflecting the incidents in the past, I am still scared.”
Protesters against Yemenites are continuing demonstrations
Not only about 700 thousand people participated in the petition against acceptance of Yemeni refugees but also some assemblies including National Action against Refugees (NAR) held protest to oppose the stay of Yemen refugees. NAR started demonstrations on June 30th in many cities such as Seoul, Incheon, and Daegu. They demanded to abolish Refugee Act and visa-free entry system since these two elements can attract more refugees to Korea. Especially, in Gwanghwamun, Seoul, about one thousand opponents gathered at the place. After the first demonstration, they held second, third, and fourth rallies on July 14th, 28th, and August 11th. A protester who participated in the fourth rally held at Seoul Station Plaza said, “Korea has accepted over one thousand Syria war refugees during the last three years and now accepted five hundred Yemenites. They are Muslim. We will not be fooled any more by them.Some of them may be pacifist, but we should not forget that every terrorist is radical Muslim. We are worrying about the potential vicious crime they might commit. People have to be protected against such danger.” He added, “We also oppose the refugees receiving social welfare which is offered by tax we pay, even though they do nothing to get those benefits. They are allowed to get jobs and receive 430 thousand won monthly living cost per one refugee and free education. That is why Korea became a playground of the Fake Refugees.”
In response to the petition against Yemenites, the government uploaded a video to suggest several solutions to the situation.
/Extracted from official YouTube channel
The government came up with new alternatives for the uproar
On June 12th, someone posted a petition on the Blue House petition board, “Please refuse to accept the Yemeni refugees.” However, it was deleted by the government even though 180 thousand people voted for the petition in four days. The reason was that the phrase the petition included, “Muslims only regard women as a tool to have a baby, so it is obvious that sexual crimes will be a consequence” is too provocative. As soon as it was deleted, a similar petition against Yemenites gained 710 thousand votes.
As a response to this, the government posted a video for the petition that exceeded 710 thousand votes on September 1st. The government announced four solutions. If one claims him or herself as a refugee, then submitting Social Network Service account is required to strengthen the verification of identity. This is because IS recruits their members through social media. The government announced that they will examine the applicants thoroughly. The process would include the reasons of persecution, drug test, infectious disease, and violent crimes. For effective screening, the government will employ experts who can collect data about the refugees. To avoid any of problems regarding longer stay of the applicants for official refugee status, screening forces and professional translators will be assigned.
Currently, whether to accept them or not is still being discussed. Even more, the protest of those who oppose to accept the refugees is still ongoing. Since the government is unable to abolish the Refugee Act, they should seek for the other optimal solution that could satisfy the majority. Also, as a record-breaking number of refugees came to Korea, we need to find a way to harmonize with the refugees. In this regard, Lee Yong-joong the professor of the Department of Law spoke, “We cannot relinquish the Refugees Act, since it has been implemented through the legislation of the international law. On top of this, sending back them by forces is, honestly speaking, impossible. First of all, refugees screening really takes time and technology. Since the people of Jeju Island are feeling uneasy with the issue, we need an asylum as soon as possible and try to take care of them in a humanitarian manner.”
Kim Ji-min, Yu Na-kyung firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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