June 26 (UPI) -- Of nearly 500 Yemeni nationals seeking asylum in South Korea, only about 20 applicants could be approved for refugee status, according to a South Korean press report.
EDaily reported Tuesday a total of 486 Yemenis who entered the South Korean island of Jeju without visas have applications pending with Seoul's government. A total of 549 initially applied for refugee status, but either went missing or left the country, according to the report.
South Korea recognizes refugees if they provide credible evidence they will be persecuted because of their nationality, ethnicity, religion or political opinion.
While their refugee applications are under review for a period of six months to a year, the Yemenis are granted residency and work permits. Appeals can also be made following a court decision, in which case the applicants can stay in Jeju for a maximum of three years.
South Korea has one of the lowest refugee recognition rates in the world.
Since April 1994, when Seoul began accepting refugees, only 839 asylum seekers of a total of 20,361 applicants have been granted status. But South Korea also allowed about 1,952 applicants to stay in the country on humanitarian grounds.
Work permits only extend to areas where manual labor is involved. Residencies must be renewed annually and refugees are not allowed to invite family to migrate to the country.
The arrival of the large group of Yemenis is unprecedented in South Korean history, but past data indicates about 20 applicants, or about 4 percent of the group, is likely to receive refugee status. Nearly 8 percent, or 39 people, will be allowed to resettle in South Korea on humanitarian grounds.
South Korean public opinion is divided, but some celebrities say Seoul should do more.
Popular actor Jung Woo-sung, who serves as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said he will "raise his voice if necessary," Yonhap reported Monday.
Jung was speaking at Jeju Forum for Peace and Prosperity.