Yemeni asylum seekers surge on South Korea's resort island

Refugee arrivals met with calls for humanitarian assistance and unwelcome reactions
By Wooyoung Lee  |  June 19, 2018 at 5:57 AM
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June 19 (UPI) -- South Korea's popular resort island of Jeju is experiencing a dramatic rise in the number of refugees and migrants due to arrivals of Yemeni asylum seekers.

The number of asylum seekers entering the island has tripled this year so far compared to last year, according to a figure by the Korea Immigration Service. Yemenis make up 54.7 percent of a total 948 asylum seekers that entered the island so far this year.

According to Yonhap, the island has seen the growing number of Yemeni asylum seekers since 2016. It rose from 10 in 2016 to more than 500 so far this year. Yemeni asylum seekers are reported to have arrived in Jeju following the expiration of their 90-day non-visa stay in Malaysia. Jeju allows visa-free entry to foreigners for up to 30 days.

The sudden increase in the number of alien asylum seekers has met with unwelcome reactions by locals. The presidential house Cheong Wa Dae website saw a post with a request to forbid the entry of asylum seekers on its online petition system on June 12, but decided to closed it due to "inappropriate expressions" in the post, Chosun Ilbo reported quoting an official.

On April 30, the immigration office of Jeju prohibited Yemenis to travel to outside the island and exempted Yemen from the list of visa-free entry country list on May 1.

The National Human Rights Commission issued a statement earlier this month, calling for the South Korean government to come up with immediate measures to assist Yemeni asylum seekers suffering from lack of financial hardships, housing and especially support for children who are left out of education.

According to UNHCR, Some 190,000 people have been displaced amid the civil war that broke in May 2015 in Yemen with more than 70 percent of the country's population in desperate living conditions.

The Jeju provincial government announced Tuesday plans for humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers in a joint press conference organized with police agency and immigration office.

"We will do our best to offer humanitarian assistance to Yemeni asylum seekers and protect the safety of our residents," said Ahn Dong-woo, vice governor for political affairs of Jeju Special Self-Governing Province.

The Jeju provincial government said it would offer support to asylum seekers suffering financial hardship and with other needs. It also added that it would help Yemeni asylum seekers to find jobs while offering translation services to facilitate their employment.

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