In 2002, Jeju Island introduced a new policy that allows foreigners to stay for 30 days without a visa in order to encourage tourism. Furthermore, legislation related to the Refugee Act in 2012, entitles asylum seekers to stay in Korea until a decision is made on their refugee status. Accordingly, some brought up a problem about increase of related crimes, illegal aliens, and abuse of refugee application system. In this situation, there has been a twelvefold increase in the number of refugee applications from Yemen, which has sparked heated debate over the accepting of refugees in Jeju Island. To hear more on the topic, The Sookmyung Times asked two students their opinions on this issue.
- Debate Topic -
Stop Accepting Refugees in Jeju Island
One of the hottest topics in Korea today is the accepting of refugees from Yemen in Jeju Island. Few people are willing to accept the refugees on ethical grounds. However, according to a poll on Realmeter, 49.1 percent of respondents said they oppose accepting of Yemeni refugees. In this regard, I am also against the accepting of refugees.
While I understand their position, accepting refugees is not only a matter of residency, it is directly related to the right to life and human dignity. I also believe basic human rights should be respected; however, reality does not always meet ideals. The accepting of refugees must be matched the situation of the nation. To identify individuals’ moral with justice of national position is difficult. Unlike an individual’s needs and wants, a nation must do what is best for all its citizens and weigh the benefits for guaranteeing national safety and protection. That’s why the nation exists. The government of a nation must consider its own peoples’ opinions and safety over the situation of other nation’s peoples.
Not only Jeju Island residents, but also a majority of Korean citizens are uneasy about accepting Yemen refugees. This is not fleeting gossip, people are seriously concerned and apprehensive about the increased sex crimes, various antisocial behavior by the asylum seekers, job problems and discord by cultural difference. Korea has never encountered this type of issue, so it is not right to accept refugees without giving people enough time to fully debate on the issue. Physical and psychological distances between refugees and Koreans just lead to communication failure and unhealthy living situations. Only after lengthy consideration and discussion should the government and public proceed with a decision. After much talk will make a final decision on refugees be harmoniously.
A considerable number of Koreans are afraid of granting asylum seekers refugee status in Jeju Island, and it seems to be based on reasonable fear. However, it is imperative to address the issue from all perspectives, discrimination, and assimilation. Compared to refugee status granting in other countries, Korea has one of the lowest rates in the world. According to the UN Refugee Agency, Korea ranked 139th in refugee acceptance, and this is a significantly low considering the economic status of the nation. Based on world percentages, it is inevitable for our country to embrace more refugees regarding the international atmosphere.
With strong bias against refugees, social fear is rampant all over the community. The biggest problem is prejudice based on religion and former nationality of the displaced people, mostly from the Middle East as such they are Muslims. Historically, Korea has never had much contact with the Islamic culture and this may have brought about the misunderstandings that are spreading rapidly in Korea nowadays. Regardless of the fact that Koreans have had few opportunities to interact with Muslims, it is unjust to deprive Muslims of the chance to become members of our society. This type of denial is discrimination against basic human rights and the freedom of religion. In addition, refugees are not united to one attribute; they are all unique individuals. Though they may share the same religious and birth country the bias places them all in the same category as harmful to society. Wide-spread stereotypic fear will only bring about isolation and exclusion in society and this might lead to actual danger.
To sum up, discriminating against refugees based on cultural differences and race is clearly wrong. Our nation should be more open-minded and give them a chance to be part of our society. Also, we should recognize that each refugee is an individual with their own story of life. We have to notice that it would be a risk to deprive their opportunities and repel them from the community in the longer-term perspective.