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Fate of 500 Yemeni Refugees Spurs Protests, Debate in South Korea

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The arrival of more than 550 Yemeni refugees to the island of Jeju has sparked an intense debate in South Korea over the country’s role in accepting asylum seekers, reports the Guardian.

The population is split between calls for compassion and immediate expulsion, noted the report.

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“I am absolutely against having refugees,” one woman wrote on a local online parenting forum. “I really hate the thought of people with the religion of Islam living on Jeju in a large number.”

In a rally against refugees last week, a crowd of nearly 1,000 in the streets of Seoul chanted,

"Citizens come first, we want safety," while protesters held up signs calling Yemenis "FAKE refugees," reported NPR.

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That sentiment was echoed by more than 700,000 people in a petition calling on the government to revoke the Yemenis’ refugee applications and have them expelled from the island, the Guardian noted.

According to South Korea's justice ministry, last year the country approved 91 out of 6,015 refugee claims, or about 1.5%, according to NPR. To date, President Moon Jae-in, the son of refugees from North Korea himself, has remained silent on the subject.

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But other Jeju residents have been welcoming to the Yemeni refugees, offering them discounted services and various donations.

“They fled for survival and they’re here looking for a better life, so we should take them in,” said Son Chun-ja, a merchant, in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s the same for Koreans who fled in the past looking for a better life, it would be horrible if those Koreans were kicked out.”

In fact, the situation in Yemen has been called the “worst man-made humanitarian crisis,” with “2 million people fleeing their homes and more than 8 million on the brink of famine,” according to figures recorded by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.