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A delicate problem

Aug 27,2018
The kind of refugee problem that is challenging rich Western societies has landed in South Korea, after 561 Yemenis entered Jeju Island by taking advantage of the resort island’s visa-free program.

Koreans are divided between prejudice against Muslims due to their association with militant Islamic groups and compassion for the people who were forced to flee their conflict- and poverty-stricken homelands. It is not easy to decide whom to accept and who to turn away. It is hard to trace the records of individuals and their possible tendencies to extremism as the Yemeni state has become dysfunctional.

An investigation by the JoongAng Sunday suggested that concerns about the uninvited guests on the island are not entirely hyped up. A study of their social media postings raised questions about nearly half of the Yemeni refugees and their motives for seeking asylum in Korea. Their social media pages had writings and photos showing their use of drugs and weapons or support for militant Islamic forces.

These postings alone cannot categorize these people as dangerous. Being armed is legal in Yemen and not an unreasonable thing to do considering its lawlessness. Many men carry around guns in a display of manhood. Although internationally banned, khat or qat — a flowering plant used as a stimulant in Africa and Arabian regions — is a legal drug, and khat-chewing is a common habit among men.

Still, customs authorities must thoroughly study all possible records of the asylum seekers. After the Justice Ministry announced that social media postings and activities would be a factor in their fates, applicants seeking asylum in Korea have begun to delete their accounts. Authorities also must take measures against such destruction of valuable reference material.

Although South Korea has joined the global program to protect refugees, the problem until now has not been real to many ordinary people. The public is confounded by it. It is wrong to deny asylum-seekers out of bias or innate distrust for aliens. Korea is no longer an entirely homogenous country. It must uphold universal values regardless of a person’s country of origin, religious faith and race.

But any potential dangers must be thoroughly examined and weeded out. The government must beef up its personnel in the refugee division and develop scientific evaluation and verification methods for asylum grants.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 25, Page 34