Progressives criticize South Korea for denying Yemenis refugee status

On Oct. 17, South Korea's Justice Ministry said it would not grant refugee status to nearly 400 Yemenis who are fleeing a civil war as well as a cholera outbreak. Progressives have denounced the move as xenophobic, though others are calling for deportation.

Kim Sun-woong/Newsis/AP
Protesters hold signs reading 'deportation fake refugees' during a rally in front of the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, on Oct. 18, 2018. A group of Yemenis seeking asylum arrived on the island of Jeju earlier this year under tourist visas.

South Korean progressives on Oct. 18 accused the government of caving into xenophobic sentiment by rejecting a plea for refugee status by hundreds of asylum seekers from war-ravaged Yemen whose arrival on a resort island earlier this year triggered outrage.

Justice Party spokesman Choi Seok said South Korea was neglecting its responsibility as a member of the United Nations and letting public sentiment influence critical decisions on human rights.

"The Yemeni refugees have risked every danger to come to our country, just so that they could survive," Mr. Choi said. "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. We should no longer ignore the voices of people who seek to live."

South Korea's Justice Ministry on Oct. 17 said it would not grant refugee status to nearly 400 Yemenis, instead saying it would issue one-year humanitarian stays to 339 of them. The ministry rejected stay permits for 34 asylum seekers, but said they could appeal, and postponed decisions for another 85 applicants, citing the need for further interviews.

The ministry previously granted temporary stays to 23 Yemenis.

The Yemenis arrived on the island of Jeju earlier this year, using an island tourist policy that allows foreigners visa-free entry for up to 30 days. 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.

Since then, there have been a series of protests in Jeju and in the capital, Seoul, in which demonstrators called for deportation of the asylum seekers, who are Muslims. Protesters accused the Yemenis of being "fake refugees" who would steal jobs and pose a threat to local safety.

Anti-immigrant groups were quick to condemn the decision to grant the Yemenis temporary stays.

"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 Oct. 18 in Seoul.

Other demonstrators held signs that read "Don't Be Like Europe" and "This Isn't Hate – We Want Safety."

Though it was the recipient of large-scale international military and humanitarian interventions during the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has granted refugee status to only a fraction of asylum seekers since 1994, when it began accepting applications. South Korea's culture greatly values ethnic homogeneity and people often guard fiercely against outsiders.

The Justice Ministry did not give a clear explanation of why the Yemeni applicants failed to meet its standards for refugee status.

An official from the Jeju Provincial Police Agency said Oct. 18 that four of the Yemenis were be investigated on suspicions that they consumed khat, a mild narcotic that is legal in Yemen but not in South Korea. The police official, who didn't want to be named, citing office rules, said that the four Yemenis were among the 34 who were refused temporary stay.

The Yemenis who received the stay permits will have to reapply after their one-year term expires if they want to remain in South Korea. The ministry said it could refuse to renew the permits if the situation in Yemen stabilizes and becomes safe for the asylum seekers to return home.

Those who were granted temporary stays are allowed to leave Jeju for the mainland but must report their whereabouts to the immigration authorities.

The conflict in Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, began with in 2014 with the takeover of the capital by Houthis, an Iranian-backed Shiite movement that toppled the internationally recognized government. A Saudi-led coalition launched to fight the Houthis has imposed sea, land, and air embargo while waging a devastating bombing campaign.

The conflict has left more than 10,000 civilians dead, driven millions from their homes and sparked a cholera epidemic. UN officials have warned that millions more could very quickly become unable to feed themselves, while the rapid depreciation of Yemen's currency has caused food prices to rise at least 35 percent.

Officials also fear a coalition-led assault on the Houthi-held port of Hodeida could shut it down. Nearly 80 percent of Yemen's imports come through the Red Sea city, including much of its humanitarian aid.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Progressives criticize South Korea for denying Yemenis refugee status
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2018/1018/Progressives-criticize-South-Korea-for-denying-Yemenis-refugee-status
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe