South Korea is suddenly finding itself deluged with Muslim asylum seekers from Yemen. Last year, the East Asian nation received nearly 10,000 such applications, and this year, that number is expected to double. But like it’s neighbor Japan, South Korea has one of the lowest refugee acceptance rates in the world. And Muslim refugees, with the inherent dangers they pose, are the last thing it needs.
DW (h/t Marvin W) An influx of nearly 1,000 Yemeni asylum seekers into the South Korean resort island of Jeju has triggered a fierce backlash against immigration rules that many South Koreans perceive to be lax and dangerous to the well-being of their society. A protest march is scheduled for Saturday.
The concern has grown suddenly with 950 foreign nationals from Yemen applying at the Jeju Immigration Office for legal refugee status after arriving as tourists. In the whole of last year, only 312 people applied for refugee status on Jeju and local people fear their island is being targeted as an easy way into the East Asian nation.
“It has become really bad in recent weeks and it is all because Jeju introduced a program that enabled people from 186 countries to come here without a tourist visa,” said Hank Kim, owner of the Core Travel Agency. “It is meant to promote tourism but these people have realized that it gives them an easy way into the country,” he told DW.
“And local people here are worried,” Kim added. “We have all read about the problems that Muslim migrants have caused in Europe — in Germany and France in particular — and we do not want that to happen here.
“And we are also worried because of their religion,” he admitted. “We have had no contact with Muslim people before, but we know that they all have big families and they bring their own culture instead of trying to adapt to the place where they live, so people here think that they should have gone as refugees to other Muslim countries.”
Feelings are running so high across the nation over the Jeju provincial government’s refugee-friendly policy that more than 380,000 people have signed a petition on the South Korean presidential Blue House’s official website against the visa-waiver program, while a demonstration is scheduled to take place in central Seoul on Saturday protesting against the influx of foreign refugees.
A post on a blog announcing the demonstration said, “Politicians are reluctant to respond to the clear voices of the majority of people and the media also supports refugees. It is time to go out onto the streets and make our voices heard.”
Under Jeju’s visa-free program, foreign visitors are permitted to stay for up to one month, but an application for refugee status permits them to go to court to support their claim, a process that will take years, critics say.