The government on Friday proposed to amend the refugee law and provide legal measures to prevent the system from being abused by migrants entering or staying illegally.
With the sudden influx of Yemenis on Jeju Island, the Ministry of Justice held a working-level meeting to discuss the situation with 15 concerned government institutions, including the Jeju Self-governing Provincial Government.
“South Korea holds international responsibility to protect refugees as a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Covention. But at the same time, we are trying to find ways to dispel public worries on safety (regarding the inflow of refugee applicants),” Justice Vice Minister Kim Oh-soo said in a press briefing after the meeting.
The ministry official explained it will come up with measures to reinforce the evaluation process of refugee applicants to make sure those who are not refugees cannot abuse the system to obtain work permits here.
According to the ministry, there were 430 Yemeni refugee applicants in the country as of the end of 2017, but 552 Yemenis were added in the first half of this year. Among the total of 982 Yemeni refugee applicants, 576 of them have come to the country via Jeju Island’s visa waiver program.
To speed up the evaluation process for the Jeju Immigration Office, the ministry said it will deploy six more inspectors, including two translators to add to the current four. With the addition, they expect the current screening period of about eight months to be reduced to two to three months.
Vice Justice Minister Kim Oh-soo announces measures to cope with hundreds of Yemeni refugees suddenly crowding into the country's southern resort island of Jeju in recent months during a briefing session at the ministry in Gwacheon, south of Seoul on Friday. (Yonhap)
The government also proposed to establish a refugee inspection center to handle appeals by those who have been rejected refugee status.
South Korea is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and is the first country in Asia to establish and enact its own refugee law, in 2013.
As part of measures to boost tourism, Jeju Island introduced a visa waiver program that allows foreign visitors to stay for 30 days without a visa -- with the exception of nationals from countries such as Afghanistan and Syria, for security reasons. As the sudden influx of Yemenis on Jeju sparked public discussions, the ministry quickly added Yemen to the list of 11 countries whose nationals require official visas to enter the country on June 1.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org)