WHY JEJU LOCALS ARE PROTESTING
In South Korea, refugees are not welcome.Source:Getty Images
JEJU sits roughly 130km south of the Korean mainland.
With its year-round pleasant climate, the tiny island â" roughly the same size as Sydneyâs inner city â" is a popular romantic holiday destination for South Korean locals and foreigners alike, with tourism making up a large chunk of its economy.
But the recent arrival of hundreds of Yemeni refugees has sparked outrage, both on the island and in the countryâs capital, Seoul.
As far as South Koreans are concerned, refugees are not welcome.
WHY JEJU LOCALS ARE PROTESTING
Earlier this year, 550 Yemeni asylum seekers landed on Jeju, a resort island popular with honeymooners and other tourists.
Unlike the mainland, Jeju has offered visa-free arrival for many nationalities as a way to boost declining tourism numbers since 2002.
With its gorgeous landscape, Jeju has long been considered a popular tourist destination in South Korea.Source:Supplied
The island has been a popular tourist destination for over 15 years.Source:Getty Images
AirAsia began running direct cheap flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Jeju last December.
For Yemeni asylum seekers, who had fled their war-torn country and were stationed in the South-East Asian country, it was an opportunity to gain entry into mainland South Korea.
Over the last five months, over 500 Yemeni s have arrived in Jeju, up on just 51 across all of last year.
But the arrivals havenât gone down well with Koreans. Outcries have broken out both on the island and in the countryâs capital, Seoul, with the Yemeni arrival wave sparking what the New York Times described as South Koreaâs âfirst organised anti-asylum movementâ.
Locals have held demonstrations in recent months, brandishing signs that say âGET OUTâ and âFAKE REFUGEES GO HOME RIGHT NOWâ in English and Korean.
Jeju citizens have taken to the streets to protest the arrival of Yemeni refugees.Source:Getty Images
Meanwhile, an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to stop accepting asylum seeker requests has received over 700,000 signatures.
According to the Times, demonstrators quest ioned why South Korea should accept refugees when the United States was shutting its borders.
âFrom an early age, they learn to treat women like sex slaves and to beat them as they like,â said Yang Eun-ok, 70, a leader of the Jeju protest, according to the newspaper. âThey can take many wives and produce many children. Now, there are 500 of them. In 10 and 20 years, how many of them will there be?â
Jeju is located just south of the South Korean mainland.Source:Supplied
But not all locals oppose the new arrivals. June polling data revealed that 39 per cent of South Koreans support accepting Yemeni refugees, while 49 per cent remain opposed.
Joi Nok, a 50-year-old cafe owner, told Al Jazeera that while sheâs âscaredâ when she sees Yemeni men in big groups at night, she believes the gover nment needs to do more to bridge the cultural gap.
âIâve been on Jeju Island for about four months and have managed to make a Yemeni friend who visits my cafe daily,â she said. âHeâs learning Korean and he practises it with me. And Iâm learning about Yemeni culture.
âI think the government should educate these asylum seekers and tell them about Korean culture â¦ But they should make a bigger effort to learn about our culture so we can live together.â
ATTITUDES TO FOREIGNERS SPARKS BACKLASH
South Korea isnât exactly known for its openness to outsiders.
Compared to other developed countries like Australia, the East Asian country accepts very few asylum seekers.
The country has accepted only 2.5 per cent of all asylum seekers itâs screened since 1994, according to Human Rights Watch.
In 2013, the country was pressured by human rights groups into adopting a new law to protect refugees.
But since then, not much has change d.
According to UNHCR, 9894 asylum applications were received in South Korea last year, mostly from China, Kazakhstan and Egypt.
Of the processed applications, 98 per cent were rejected in the first instance. Only 102 applications â" mostly from Myanmar â" were accepted, while 5557 were rejected. (North Korea is exempt from this tally, as the South Korean government automatically accepts any defectors as its own citizens after theyâve been processed.)
South Korea boasts a homogenous culture and is not known for its ethnic diversity.Source:Supplied
The negative local response to refugees has sparked a backlash around the world.
S. Nathan Park, a Washington-based lawyer, described the protests as âxenophobic hysteriaâ, writing in Foreign Policy that âSouth Korea is goin g crazy over a handful of refugeesâ.
He noted that it was mostly women, young people and rich people who opposed the arrivals, and suggested Islamophobia played a large part in the discontent.
But other reports suggest it could be a cultural aversion to ethnic foreigners altogether.
In July, Se-Woong Koo, the publisher of an English-language magazine in Seoul, wrote an opinion piece for the Times decrying South Korea as âracistâ and âintolerant of outsidersâ.
This prejudice, she argues, is a product of Koreaâs homogenous culture.
âNone of this is surprising given South Koreaâs education system. For decades, children, myself included, were taught to believe that this is a single-blooded nation â" dubbed danil minjok in Korean. This myth of racial purity was promoted to foster national unity.â
She also evoked the countryâs own tragic history with war, and a more recent history of alarming tensions with its northern counterpart: âPerhaps a better question to ask those South Koreans who seem to be devoid of compassion would be this: How would they expect other countries to treat South Korean refugees in the event of a war with North Korea?â
The Yemenis, meanwhile, now live in limbo.
The government has banned those still remaining on the island from leaving until their applications are fully reviewed.
This means that â" for the unforeseeable future â" they have nowhere else to go.
There are some destinations which are dangerous for a little known reason. Some places seem to trigger unique mental health conditions. Traveller beware.Source: Google News South Korea | Netizen 24 South Korea