In Brief

The other migrant crisis: South Korea cracks down on Yemeni refugees

Arrival of hundreds of people fleeing Yemen conflict has sparked panic is Seoul

South Korea’s Justice Ministry has announced that the country’s asylum laws are to be revised, as a sudden influx of Yemen refugees sparks an anti-migrant backlash.

More than 552 people from Yemen arrived in the East Asian nation between January and May, the ministry said. Prior to this year, a total of just 430 Yemenis had ever applied for refugee status in South Korea, Reuters reports.

The new arrivals are being held at a centre on the southern island of Jeju, a popular summer resort that, in an effort to promote tourism, allows foreign visitors to stay for 30 days without a visa, says The Korea Times.

The refugees’ arrival has been met with suspicion in the highly ethnically homogenous nation, which has granted asylum to only 839 people since 1994.

More than 540,000 South Koreans have signed an online petition to the presidential Blue House in the past two weeks, asking the government to abolish abolish or amend no-visa entries and the granting of refugee status to applicants.

“Nearly 400 petitions that include the word refugee can be found on Cheong Wa Dae’s [Blue House] website”, many of which claim that “the presence of refugees expose Koreans to violent crimes”, says The Korea Herald.

Human rights campaigners have dismissed allegations that the Yemenis have come to South Korea seeking economic advantage, pointing instead to the violent civil war tearing the Gulf nation apart. Around 190,000 people have fled Yemen since the conflict began in March 2015.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has urged the government in Seoul to improve the poor conditions for the asylum seekers on Jeju.

“The Justice Ministry is confining refugees to Jeju Island without any appropriate measures in place,” said Kim Seong-in, who heads the Refugee Network’s Jeju countermeasures committee.

The Justice Ministry is blocking the refugees from leaving Jeju, and stopped no-visa entry onto the island for Yemeni citizens at the beginning of this month.

“Because of the lack of a refugee support system on Jeju Island, refugees are waiting forever for their refugee status reviews,” said NHRCK chair Lee Sung-ho.

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