This Aljazeera article discusses the situation of Yemeni asylum seekers on South Korea's Jeju Island. More than 550 Yemeni nationals have arrived on the island since April 2018, seeking asylum and refugee status. Jeju Island offers visa-free arrival for various nationalities, including Yemen, to boost tourism. However, the arrival of the Yemenis sparked online outcry and protests, and the asylum seekers were termed "fake refugees" because they were mostly male, well-dressed, and had smartphones.
While South Korea has signed on to international conventions regarding refugees, theory is far different than practice.
South Korea took Yemen off the list of countries that were offered visa-free entry onto Jeju and announced plans to tighten the country's Refugee Act. Critics saw this move as supportive of the protesters' demands.
The article also includes an interview with a Yemeni asylum seeker named Mohammad Salem, who talks about his journey from Yemen, his three years in Malaysia, and his feelings towards South Korea, Islamophobia, and discrimination. He had a good life in Yemen, working at Sanaa airport and having a small business. But the war left him in a bad shape, and he had to flee to Malaysia. He found a dishwashing job at a restaurant to cover his expenses but had to work for 16-17 hours a day. He then went to Jeju because of the visa-free policy and applied for refugee status but then realized that he could not leave the island.
Life on Jeju Island was difficult for Mohammad because there weren't enough jobs, and employers did not give jobs to those with families. Those who got jobs found it difficult too, working for 18-20 hours a day, getting physically assaulted by the employers, and not being able to speak the language. Some people worked for 45 days and left without being paid.
Salem's story highlights the challenges that refugees face and the discrimination they encounter, despite seeking asylum and fleeing war and conflict.
The article sheds light on the importance of treating refugees with dignity and compassion and providing them with the support they need to rebuild their lives. I've circled back to this story over the years; while Korea is still grappling with pervasive negative attitudes towards Arabs/Muslims, it seems that the migrants are doing their best in a difficult situation and changing minds and attitudes. At least one has found love.