Earlier this year, over 500 Yemenis arrived in South Korea trying to escape war and famine. All they wanted was a place to call home without having to worry about the death and destruction that comes with war, but they haven’t exactly been welcomed with open arms.
561 individuals arrived on Jeju Island because the island has a policy of allowing most foreign nationals to enter without getting a visa in advance.
Since the country has been receiving so many refugees from Yemen, the topic has become a hotbed of debate. And although the South Korean Justice Ministry only approved 1.5% of refugee claims last year, for some, that’s still too many.
On Saturday, nearly 1,000 people attended an anti-refugee protest in Seoul. During the protest, many people held up signs that read “Fake refugees” while many others chanted, “Citizens come first, we want safety.”
Additionally, over half a million people signed a petition to turn away refugees.
Many of the protesters believe that the refugees came to the country without going through the proper legal process. Others still think that the refugees pose a threat to their safety.
“They came here without proper legal process. We are in the position to help them but the reality is that we have been used by them.” — Christopher Han, protester
While the protesters may believe that the refugees are a threat to their safety and are using the country, the UN has proven that these refugees are anything but fake. In fact, the UN High Commision for Human Rights estimated that between March 2015 and August 2017 more than 5,100 Yemen civilians had been killed and 8,700 had been injured.
They have also called the country on the edge of famine the “worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time.”
Thankfully there are many other South Koreans who have taken a shine to the refugees. Many have hired them for various jobs including those that are unfavored by nationals and many of the refugees have experienced nothing but kindness from South Koreans.
Despite the UN’s thoughts on the subject and those who have welcomed the Yemenis, the government ended visa-free entry for Yemen on June 1, effectively closing the border to refugees and blocking those on Jeju Island from leaving.
So, for those 561 individuals that came earlier this year, their futures are in the hands of the government. The country will likely be making their asylum decisions within the next six months and until then the refugees’ futures in South Korea are up in the air.