▲ Jeju Airport. Photo by Kwon Ki-gap via visitjeju.net
23 Yemeni’s who had applied for refugee status in Jeju have been granted temporary visas. Jnuri reported that the Jeju Immigration Office announced on Sept. 14 that the applicants had been given humanitarian visas that let them stay in Korea for up to a year. However, it didn’t go as far as to grant them refugee status.
According to Jeju Immigration Office, it does not believe the applicants fit the criteria for refugee status. However, it handed out humanitarian visas as it believes the applicants could face a threat to their lives if deported back to their home country due to the serious civil war situation in Yemen, as well as the possibility of arrest and detention in a third country.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, to be considered a refugee the applicant has to have a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinions, or membership of a particular social group.
So far, the Immigration Office stated that 440 out of 484 applicants have been interviewed. Of the 23 already granted visas, 10 are those under the age of 19. Seven of those 10 came to Jeju with parents while three arrived on their own.
While the visa lasts for one year, if the situation in Yemen improves, it can be shortened. The Yemenis can also apply for an extension before the visa term ends. The 23 people who have received visas are now free to travel to other parts of Korea.
The Immigration Office plans to run a social integration program to help those granted visas learn Korean, as well as learn about the laws and culture of Korea. As for the remaining applicants, it is expected that the final decision will be made in October.
The Yemeni asylum seekers arrived in Jeju at the start of the year after fleeing war in their home country. While Jeju may seem an unlikely place for them to end up, a unique set of circumstances saw them end up on the island.
The establishment of a flight between Kuala Lumpur — where many of the refugees were staying — and Jeju, meant there was a direct route to the island. Gaining entry wasn’t a problem as Jeju has a visa-free travel policy to attract tourists. However, in June, Yemen was added to the short list of countries that require visas.
Due to the visa-free policy being a Jeju only policy, the refugees who arrived on the island are unable to move to other parts of Korea until granted a visa or refugee status.
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