More than 500,000 South Koreans signed a petition denouncing their government’s policy towards refugees and migrants. Many South Koreans are concerned about possible economic exploitation by immigrants and the influx of Muslim refugees from war-torn Yemen. On June 30, hundreds of South Koreans protested against the arrival of almost 1,000 Yemeni refugees on the resort island of Jeju, taking advantage of a visa-waiver program. In 2017, only 312 people applied for refugee status on Jeju island, which residents now fear has become a jumping-off place to the mainland for the refugees.

Under the visa-waiver program at Jeju, foreign visitors are allowed to stay one month before they can apply to the refugee program -- a legal process that can require years.

In a report by DW news, Hank Kim of the Core Travel Agency said, “It has become really bad in recent weeks and it is all because Jeju introduced a program that enabled people from 186 countries to come here without a tourist visa,” says Hank Kim, owner of the Core Travel Agency. Mirroring the concerns of South Koreans who fear that Muslims will not assimilate local customs, Kim said, “Local people here are worried, we have all read about the problems that immigrants have caused in Europe — in Germany and France in particular — and we do not want that to happen here.” Kim added, “We are also worried because of their religion. We have had no contact with Muslim people before, but we know that they all have big families and they bring their own culture instead of trying to adapt to the place where they live..”

At the June 30 protest, hundreds protested outside of city hall in Seoul and denounced the visa-waiver program in which hundreds of people participated. A protest organizer called on the government to put Koreans before refugees. The organizer said, “We are not against all refugees. But we should not accept foreigners who try to exploit the policy as a means of seeking economic interests and dodging the draft in their countries.”
 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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