Minister responds to petition against refugees

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Minister responds to petition against refugees

Korea will work toward better protecting asylum seekers who arrive in the country and speed up the review process to help ease their pain while sorting out migrants seeking to game the system, the justice minister said on Wednesday.

“We have decided to come up with measures to help refugees utilize their own capabilities and live independently instead of being passively dependent on protection and support,” Minister Park Sang-ki said in an interview with a public relations official from the Blue House.

Park’s remarks came in response to a recent petition posted on the Blue House’s website calling for a ban on new refugees.

The petition was prompted by the recent arrival of some 500 asylum seekers from Yemen to Jeju Island, which has a program that allows foreign nationals to stay on the island for up to 90 days.

Jeju has since removed Yemen from the list of countries entitled to the visa waiver program.

The justice minister acknowledged a need to protect the interests of local residents and said the government would increase the number of workers involved in the process of reviewing asylum seekers’ applications. It would also reduce the total review period from a maximum three years to less than a year.

“We will also consider not referring fake asylum seekers who are clearly seeking to take advantage of the refugee protection system to the review process,” Park said. “We also plan to stipulate penalties for refugee brokers engaging in illegal activities.”

Still, the minister said entirely prohibiting any refugees from entering the country would run against Korea’s own interests, noting that no country has withdrawn its membership from the United Nations convention on refugees.

Since the country signed the convention in 1992, 42,009 people have sought asylum in Korea, but only 4 percent - 849 people - have been granted status.

Even with an additional 1,550 non-refugees who have been allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons, the country’s protection rate stands at 11.4 percent, far lower than the average 38 percent of all signatories to the convention.

“Withdrawing from the convention or abolishing the law on refugee protection is realistically impossible when considering our country’s status and reputation in the international community,” Park said, “and the effect such a move may have on our country’s interests.”

Park’s interview with the Blue House was the latest in an initiative introduced by the Moon Jae-in administration to directly respond to any public petitions that gain more than 200,000 signatures in less than 30 days.

The petition against refugees garnered more than 710,000 signatures, according to the Blue House.

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