Two journalists from Yemen given refugee status
The Jeju Immigration Office granted refugee status to two Yemenis Friday, making them the only individuals granted safe haven in Korea out of a group of 484 asylum seekers from the war-torn country.
The two Yemenis are journalists who received kidnap and death threats in their home country after producing reports critical of the Houthi insurgents that occupy the northern part of the country, according to the Justice Ministry.
The immigration office and Justice Ministry concluded Friday a final review of 84 asylum seeker cases that had been put on hold out of the 484 Yemenis who applied for asylum on Jeju Island earlier this year.
After two series of investigations in September and October, 362 Yemenis had been allowed to stay in Korea for up to a year for humanitarian reasons, and an additional 50 applicants were granted temporary residence on Friday, bringing the total number to 414.
The other 70 were neither granted refugee status nor temporary residence, or they voluntarily withdrew their asylum requests.
With regards to the two journalists who are now allowed to stay indefinitely in Korea as refugees, the Justice Ministry said they fit the legal requirements to be given asylum as defined in a 2012 law, which stipulates that only those who remain highly vulnerable to persecution can be given refugee status.
“We conducted thorough interviews, background checks, investigations into whether the applicants had a history of drug abuse or ties to terrorist groups and consulted a variety of experts on the Middle East and refugees,” a Justice Ministry spokesman said on Friday. “50 others were granted temporary residence because their freedoms and lives could be threatened by the civil war in Yemen if they are deported immediately.”
Residence permits for humanitarian reasons may be extended before the permit’s expiration date, but they are never granted for more than a year at a time. While they are allowed to work, people granted temporary stays for humanitarian reasons are not given government support for education, medical aid or housing, which is given to recognized refugees.
The spokesman added that the temporary residents can seek work in other parts of Korea as long as they register with their immigration office. If they commit crimes on Korean soil, or if the situation in Yemen improves in the near future, their residence permits may not be renewed.
Korea saw an unprecedented influx of Yemenis from January to May this year as the civil war took a turn for the worse from late 2017. More than 500 entered Korea during that period after word got out that Yemenis could reach Jeju Island without a visa and find jobs. Jeju adopted a visa-free program in 2002 to boost tourism to the resort island.
This was met by a powerful backlash among the Korean public, with many people calling on the government to expel the asylum seekers in protests and petitions inevitably fueled by xenophobia.
A part of the furor could be attributed to a prevalent belief in a single ethnic identity among many Koreans, a product of decades of nationalist education and memories of foreign aggression.
The fact that polls showed anti-refugee sentiment is especially strong among the youth suggests a more immediate cause - a fear that migrants may be taking jobs while young Korean struggle to find work in a sluggish economy.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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