More than 60 million refugees have been reported worldwide over the past year, and more than 10,000 applications have been filed in South Korea. According to the Jeju Immigration and Foreign Office, the number of refugees who entered the island without a visa has soared from seven in 2016 and 42 in 2017 to 561 in June 2018. Of these, 549 applied for refugee status. The Jeju entry permit system has allowed foreigners to stay for 30 days without a visa since 2002 for tourism vitalization. However, it has been recently taken advantage of by Yemeni refugees, contrary to our intention. It has become a major issue in South Korea since June.
In June, a total of 561 Yemeni refugees entered Jeju Island to avoid the civil war in their country with 549 of them applying for asylum. In response, most South Koreans feel hostility to accepting refugees. Nevertheless, there are two reasons that our country should accept refugees: humanitarian reasons and demographic cliff problem.
Firstly, people who are at risk from civil war should be put in a humanitarian dimension. The reason is that Korea also had a refugee crisis during the Korean War in 1950 and was helped by other countries. It is now our turn to help refugees from other countries. Our country also joined the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and signed an agreement to protect refugees on humanitarian grounds. Therefore, our country should accept and sympathize with refugees who are no longer able to withstand the civil war in Yemen on a humanitarian basis.
Secondly, in South Korea, where birth rates are low, it could be a starting point for accepting immigrants and solving the demographic cliff problem in the future. Samsung Economic Research Institute once claimed in 2010 that South Korea should accept 1.59 million immigrants by 2050 to offset the low birth rate and aging population situation. Under these claims, the decision to accept about 500 Yemeni refugees will serve as a beneficial opportunity not only to fill Jeju Island’s deficient manpower but also to see if it can be a solution to our country’s future labor population reduction.
In conclusion, the refugee problem cannot be avoided forever. Refugees looking for sanctuary is happening and will continue to happen. The time will come when Korea must accept refugees. The continuing refusal to accept refugees will increase criticism from the international community. Rather than refuse, a thorough refugee screening process and a refugee law should be enacted. Above all, the role of the government is the most important, and public awareness should change little by little.
●Opinion from a reader
(Yeo Ran Jin, Department of International Relations)
I am also in favor of accepting refugees. Our country continues to have a problem with refugees. Since the influx of refugees will continue in the future, it is imperative that the current acceptance process is strictly followed. Only then will the Korean people be able to overcome acceptance of refugees’ problems. I agree in particular that we should help refugees on a humanitarian basis. This is because our country also had a time when we were refugees, and had help from other countries. Now that our country is in a position to help refugees from other countries, some reasonable acceptance should be made. There are many reasons that people should accept refugees, as there are many reasons why people are against them. We must find common ground and prepare a reasonable solution.
Recently, Koreans have been debating whether to accept refugees from Yemen or not. Over 700,000 people have posted on the Cheongwadae site that they oppose accepting Yemeni refugees on Jeju Island. Many posts said the government must first resolve the issue of illegal aliens with expired visas before accepting refugees. This is the largest record until now. Also, there was a demonstration in Seoul against refugees on July 28, 2018. This demonstration represented mainstream public opinion. Interestingly, this opposition to refugees as a whole is much higher among young people than older people. I oppose accepting refugees for following reasons.
First, crime will increase. Europe has had refugee problems for a long time ago. Since the civil war in Syrian started, victims of the violence have fled to Europe, greatly increasing the number of refugees. As the number of refugees increased, many more crimes occurred than before. Germany was pretty safe among European countries until terrorists disguised as refugees infiltrated the country. Now, the fear of terrorism has spread. In Korea, the Jeju Citizen’s Solidarity Association for Refugee Measures said Jeju Island’s so called no visa system can be abused by illegal immigrants and refugees.
Second, if the refugees are accepted in Korea, Koreans will feel burdened by paying taxes to help refugees. This is the reason why young people oppose accepting them. South Korea doesn’t have the ability to accept many refugees, yet. If refugees are accepted, South Korea will soon have a greater economic burden to maintain security and establish facilities to assimilate refugees into South Korea.
Last, accepting refugees possibility of cultural conflict. South Korea is a country where students are taught to believe that Korea is a single-blooded nation that has experienced many invasions by foreign powers. Therefore, it is normal that they try and keep outsiders away as much as possible. In addition, people say Islam is a religion that is simply not compatible with Korean society. Koreans have seen the effects of refugees on Europe and believe that it is not easy to coexist with refugees with a very different culture. If Korea accepts refugees, cultural clashes will happen.
Above all, the majority of South Koreans oppose accepting refugees. However, we cannot avoid facing this situation since we are a part of the international community. To reduce problems from accepting refugees, we need to establish strict policies as fast as possible. The government has to have a substantial and realistic plan to be impartial to everyone.
●Opinion from a reader
(Seo Sang-hee, Major in Spanish and Latin American Studies)
First of all, there are many examples that refugees do crimes abroad already. Korea is known for public order and safety.
However, if refugees commit crimes, it is a fact that we would be harmed by our generosity. Also, I have anxiety that those with impure purposes would disguise themselves as refugees and come to Korea. I hope to make up for policy for immigrant in Korea rather than accept refugees.