- Oct 27, 2017
Full article here: https://www.npr.org/2018/07/04/625915526/anti-refugee-backlash-in-south-korea-targets-yemenis-fleeing-war-and-seeking-asy?t=1530909476358Fleeing war, more than 500 Yemenis arrived earlier this year in an unlikely place — a tiny South Korean resort island. They're hoping to be granted asylum so they can stay in South Korea, but as they wait on the island of Jeju, they've become the target of blistering backlash from South Koreans.
"I love Korea, really," Ebrahim Qaid says. He is one of 561 Yemenis who arrived on Jeju earlier this year through the island's policy of allowing most foreign nationals to enter without getting a visa in advance.
The country is teetering on the brink of famine. The U.N. has called it "the worst man-made humanitarian crisis of our time."
According to South Korea's justice ministry, last year the country approved 91 out of 6,015 refugee claims, or about 1.5 percent.
But demonstrators say that's still too much.
"They came here without proper legal process," says demonstrator Christopher Han. "We are in the position to help them. But the truth is that, the reality is that we have been used by them."
The main fears are over safety, Han says. "It is all about their different idea and belief system. I mean the Muslims," he says.
More than half a million South Koreans have signed a petition asking the government to turn away refugees.
"I didn't expect Korea to welcome refugees with open arms," says Sharon Yoon, a professor of Korean Studies at Seoul's Ewha University. She's not surprised since non-native Koreans make up only 4 percent of the country's population. Until 2007, the country's education system taught students it was ethnically homogeneous — a single-blooded nation.
"Yes," she says, "there is a lot of pushback, and yes, there is a lot of pressure from civil society, but xenophobia is not the whole picture. There is a backlash over accepting refugees all over the world. And Korea is one of those countries."
On Jeju, some Korean employers, like fishing boat owner Lee Si-hyun, take a "why not" attitude to giving Yemenis work.
"If they're willing to head out to sea, I'll keep employing them," he says.