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339 Yemenis get 1 year, no asylum

Oct 18,2018
The Jeju Immigration Office said Wednesday that 339 Yemenis who applied for asylum on Jeju Island can stay in the country for up to a year for humanitarian reasons.

But they were denied refugee status.

A total of 484 Yemenis applied for asylum on Jeju Island this year. Of them, three left Korea on their own and 23 were granted one-year stays in the country for humanitarian reasons on Sept. 14.

Of the remaining 458, the immigration office said 339 can stay in the country for up to a year for humanitarian reasons, 34 have been denied asylum and an additional 85 cases will be investigated further.

“The 339 do not meet the definition of a refugee, but we judged that they can face threats to their lives if they are deported to Yemen or to a third country,” the immigration office said in its statement. “They were therefore granted temporary humanitarian stays in the country.”

Residence permits for humanitarian reasons may be extended before the permit’s expiration date, but they are never granted for more than a year at a time. People granted temporary stays for humanitarian reasons are not given government support for education, medical aid or housing, which is given to recognized refugees. But the permit allows them to work.

The office added that the one-year period granted can be shortened if “situations in Yemen improve enough for them to return home” or if they commit a crime here.

The 34 denied asylum in Korea had criminal and “other records of concern,” or had options to stay in a third country because they or their spouses had citizenship in a third country.

“The 85 people still waiting results will undergo further investigations and interviews, and we will announce our decision soon,” the office said. “Of them, 16 could not be investigated in time because they were at sea on fishing boats or temporarily out of the country for various reasons.”

The 339 Yemenis granted temporary stays for humanitarian reasons will be allowed to leave Jeju Island for other parts of Korea. The South Korean government in April issued a domestic travel ban on Yemeni asylum seekers on the island.

More than 500 Yemenis entered Korea through Jeju Island between January and May of this year, after word got out among Yemenis that they could land on Jeju Island without a visa and find jobs. Jeju adopted a visa-free program in 2002 to boost tourism on the resort island.

On June 1, the South Korean government added Yemen to a list of countries whose citizens are required to have visas to enter Jeju.

The immigration office said in its statement that all of the asylum seekers it investigated went through “thorough interviews and investigations to determine if they had possible ties with terrorist organizations or records of crime or drug abuse.”

The refugee recognition system in Korea can be divided into two reviews and three trials: An applicant is reviewed first by a local immigration office; if he or she is refused refugee status recognition, the applicant can appeal the decision to the Justice Ministry; if the ministry upholds the rejection, an asylum seeker can bring the case to a court and get a total of three trials, including appeals. If the Supreme Court upholds the rejection, the asylum seeker is deported.

The whole process can take a few years. Asylum seekers are allowed to find jobs in the country six months after they submit an application.

Korea signed the UN Refugee Convention in 1992 and passed a Refugee Act in 2012. From 1992 to June of this year, 42,009 people applied for asylum in Korea. Only 4 percent were granted refugee status, according to the Justice Ministry. An additional 1,550 people have been granted temporary stays for humanitarian reasons.

Counting both the number of refugees and people given residence permits for humanitarian reasons, South Korea has an 11.4 percent refugee protection rate.

According to the Blue House, the global average refugee protection rate is 38 percent.

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