South Korea is to tighten laws governing the arrival of refugees, the South Korean Ministry of Justice said yesterday, after a rapid rise in the number of Yemeni asylum seekers sparked anti-refugee sentiment.
More than 552 people from Yemen arrived on the southern resort island of Jeju between January and last month, more than the 430 Yemenis who had ever applied for refugee status in South Korea, the ministry said.
The nation has granted refugee status to just more than 839 people since 1994 out of the 40,470 people who have applied.
The sudden surge has fueled concern that many could be seeking economic advantage rather than protection and that they could lead to an increase in crime and other social problems.
More than 540,000 South Koreans have signed an online petition to the Blue House in the past two weeks, asking the government to abolish or amend no-visa entries and the granting of refugee status to applicants.
The ministry said it would revise the Refugee Act to prevent abuses.
It said it would also increase the number of officers reviewing refugee applications to “quickly review and thoroughly verify identities so as to meticulously review potential for problems including terrorism and violent crime.”
South Korea has already blocked asylum seekers in Jeju from leaving the island and on June 1 dropped Yemen from the list of nations that would not require a visa.
The reason the asylum seekers have chosen Jeju can be traced to a direct flight from Kuala Lumpur, established by budget carrier AirAsia X in December last year, a ministry official said.
“A few Yemenis started to enter the country in early December and the news about the new flight spread among the 2,800 Yemenis in Malaysia,” the official said.
A blogger has called a rally for today in Seoul, under a banner reading “Fake Refugees GET OUT,” with mothers of young children saying online that they intend to join to raise concerns about crime and job losses.
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