SEOUL, Aug. 1 (UPI) -- The South Korean government plans to strengthen identity checks on asylum seekers in response to growing concerns about the recent surge of refugees.
Justice Minister Park Sang-ki said the government will require future asylum applicants to report their social media accounts, review their past criminal records and conduct tests for drugs and infectious diseases.
"The ministry is taking concerns expressed by online petitions over the refugee issue seriously," Park said in a livestream on the presidential office's social media channel Wednesday. "We have reviewed the current asylum system and will try to make improvement based on requests in the petitions."
An online petition opposing the admittance of Yemeni refugees has garnered more than 710,000 signatures within a month. The petition demands the government scrap or revise the current refugee protection law and visa entry system and refrain from granting refugee status.
A record number of 552 asylum seekers have applied for refugee status this year, most from Yemen. The number is higher than combined asylum applications for the past 20 years.
"Yemen is in a war right now. There was nothing illegal in the entry of Yemenis to Jeju because they arrived on a visa-free entry system and applied for asylum during the period allowed for a stay," Park said.
The Justice Ministry added 12 countries, including Gambia, Somalia, Egypt, Senegal and Uzbekistan, to the list of countries exempt from the visa-free entry to Jeju on Wednesday.
The resort island has allowed foreign nationals under its visa-free entry system to increase arrivals of tourists.
Following the recent influx of Yemeni asylum seekers, it excluded Yemen from the list of visa-free entry countries in May.
"We designated 12 more countries, such as Gambia and Somalia, that seem distant to the purpose of the visa-entry system as to revitalize tourism," Park said.