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[Newsmaker] Public remains poles apart over accepting Afghan refugees

Some say support necessary based on humanitarian grounds; others emphasize struggling Koreans should come first

The Embassy of Afghanistan in Seoul (Yonhap)
The Embassy of Afghanistan in Seoul (Yonhap)
A public debate over whether Korea should accept Afghan refugees continues to heat up with the government granting special stay permits for Afghans here while airlifting nationals who worked for Korea in the war-torn country.

Since the Taliban took control of Kabul earlier this month, opinions are split over whether Korea should help Afghan nationals.

A national petition against the idea of taking in Afghan refugees posted on the presidential website of Cheong Wa Dae on Tuesday has gained over 18,000 signatures so far.

“Afghans showed no willingness to put in any efforts. They just abandoned their own country as soon as the US pulled its troops,” the petitioner wrote.

“Right now, Korea is having extreme difficulties with a poor economy and the prolonged coronavirus pandemic. There are more than enough of our own people who are struggling. We aren’t even solving their problems. If we accept refugees, who would pay for the money for them?”

The petitioner also voiced concerns over potential cultural conflicts, saying that Afghans, most of whom are Muslims, would be unable to coexist with Koreans due to religious reasons.

Another national petition, on the other hand, gave reasons as to why Korea should open up its borders for Afghan refugees.

“Korea signed the (UN) Refugee Convention. In terms of economic conditions such as GDP, it is a country that has capabilities to accept refugees. Above all, it is a humanitarian duty to help people who are politically and culturally persecuted in their home country,” the petition read.

“Korea has been criticized for being passive in recognizing refugees. Now we should show responsibility by actively accepting refugees in accordance with international standards and agreements.”

The petition in favor of taking in Afghan refugees only received around 900 signatures as of noon Wednesday.

According to an online survey conducted by local weekly paper MoneyS, about three-quarters of the respondents said the country should not take in Afghan refugees in consideration of several aspects. About 11 percent said they should be accepted on humanitarian grounds. Another 11 percent said the decision should be made after consulting the public to reach social consensus.

In regards to a news report about the Justice Ministry’s announcement on granting special stay permits for 434 Afghans residing in Korea, opinions in online communities were mixed again.

One commenter said it was a good decision and the measure would benefit everyone in the long term, adding that those who would receive help are in desperate need.

But another, who posted on a related news article on Naver, wrote that the reason for the opposition was not because they were asylum seekers, but rather because of their religious backgrounds.

As far as the government’s decision to bring in some 380 Afghans who worked for Korea in Afghanistan via military airplanes is concerned, the majority of the public appeared in favor of the mission.

“We were in an extreme hardship, but we’ve made it this far with the help from the world. Please do not criticize the least humanitarian measures,” one online comment read.

“I hope we can open up our minds and give a warm hug to those who are having the most difficult times of their lives.”

At a time when countries’ abilities to extend help across borders is growing, another said, it is important to create a perception for people that Korea takes responsibility for those who cooperate with Korea.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com
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