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7 Yemenis get exception to leave Jeju for the mainland

July 17,2018
Seven Yemeni asylum seekers were allowed to leave Jeju Island and come to the mainland to be reunited with relatives and for medical treatment, the Ministry of Justice said Monday.

“Seven have been allowed to leave the island,” a Justice Ministry official told the Korea JoongAng Daily. “Of them, four are from one family who were allowed to be reunited with their relatives in another part of South Korea. The other three have been allowed to leave the island to get medical treatment.”

Two of the three who left the island for medical treatment are also from the same family.

“One suffers from schizophrenia, and that person was allowed to leave with a cousin,” said the official. “The third was a pregnant woman who needed medical assistance at a facility outside of Jeju.”

Jeju Island saw an influx of asylum seekers from Yemen, which is in a civil war, in April and May.

According to the Justice Ministry, 12 Yemenis applied for refugee status on Jeju Island in January; 23 in February; nine in March; 79 in April; and 423 in May.

Amid growing concerns about the inflow of asylum seekers, the Justice Ministry banned Yemeni asylum seekers on Jeju from leaving the island for other areas of South Korea from April 30.

On June 1, it added Yemen to a list of countries whose citizens are required to have visas to enter Jeju, which they didn’t need earlier.

“Since the ban on leaving the island from April 30, the seven have been the only Yemeni asylum seekers allowed to leave,” the official said.

A petition to the Blue House asking for the government to end visa-free entry to Jeju and consider scrapping or amending Korea’s refugee laws was signed by 714,875 people as of Friday, when the petition was closed and submitted.

The Blue House has yet to answer the petition. The Blue House has promised to formally respond to petitions with more than 200,000 signatures.

The ministry is also reviewing a way to shorten the asylum process, bowing to public pressure against the country’s acceptance of refugees. Asylum seekers in Korea can stay in the country while the asylum procedure is ongoing, which can last from a few months to years.

Korea is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and enacted local legislation in 2013 to comply with the convention.

BY ESTHER CHUNG [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]