Credit: Ed Jone/AFP/Getty Images

The Yemen crisis is blatantly known as one of the worst humanitarian disasters, with 3 million people displaced and three-quarters of the population at brink of famine due to an obliterated economy. More than a million of Yemenis citizens contracted the epidemic cholera during the outbreak of the civil war, a gruesome and costly struggle between Houthi rebels and Yemeni government. The inevitable political instability in the region bred ground for even more destructive terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda that extended its control of territory in southern Yemen.

The crisis led to a migrant spurt of 552 people towards South Korea, a surprisingly unexpected tourist destination for refugees. Having recognized South Korea as part of the UN Refugee Convention, those in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia took a direct flight to Jeju Island which conveniently allows tourists to stay for 30 days without a visa. Currently, the government has barred further progressions towards the capital city, Seoul, and though jobs in fishing sectors have been offered, most remain unemployed and trapped on the island. Though there are those locals who had provided consistent support and cordial welcome for the Yemenis, social protests and movements had equally formulated throughout the past months to express the anger and discomfort of South Korean citizens and urge the Yemenis to leave the country. The extreme polarization of opinions regarding the refugees had sparked great controversy in the Korean peninsula.

49% of South Koreans adamantly opposed to the influx of Yemenis insinuate islamophobic and xenophobic sentiments behind their rationale of expulsion. They fear that the refugees are going to endanger national security and comfort of Korea with crime rates and terrorism. They also insist that the conflict occurred in a geographically distant Middle Eastern region irrelevant to the context of South Korea and want the accomodation of the refugees by neighboring countries or European countries primarily responsible for imperialism, the latent origin of most global conflicts. Protests continue to portray Korea as a long victim of colonial powers with its history of suppression and are intimidated by the chaos of the European refugee crisis caused by unregulated immigration, labelling the Yemenis as “fake refugees.”

Cultural obstacles also stand in the way of the admittance of Yemenis into the mainland. The South Korean public, especially the young generation, believes that Islam is not fundamentally compatible with Korean culture. Korea was always a generally homogenous country by ethnicity and culture, so the full integration of these refugees may alter cultural dogma regarding Korean identity.

Both means of acceptance or expulsion would signify great political implications of Korean state and social stability. The asylum decisions would be finalized in six months and until then, the future of these refugees still remain ambiguous.


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