Mission life: THE KUKMIN DAILY

500 Yemenis in Jeju-do Seek Refugee Status: Welcome Them or Be Cautious?

2018-06-27 10:20

Escaping from civil war, approximately 500 Yemenis have arrived on Jeju Island and applied for refugee status. This has led to heated controversy in Korean society. Conflicting opinions are found in church circles, too, as to whether Christians should be hospitable to these strangers or refuse to accept an influx of Muslims. On June 20, World Refugee Day, the Kukmin Daily heard from both positions.

▒ Why Welcome

“You shall also love the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19). “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).

Christians who say we need to be hospitable toward the Yemeni refugee applicants refer to two Bible verses. They say Christians’ first consideration must be Biblical values. On June 20, Yang Hui-song, representative of Chungeoram, wrote on his Facebook wall, “Whether or not others treat refugees poorly for many reasons, Christians should take care of migrants till the very end. What the Bible always emphasizes is never to neglect orphans, widows, or migrants.”

Missionaries called for sympathy and love towards the Yemenis, instead of hatred. They said that the Yemenis’ visit to Korea may be an opportunity to communicate the Gospel to them, as Yemen is not reachable by Korean missionaries.

Missionary A, who has been helping Yemenis in Korea since two years ago, said, “Many of them feel exhausted by the Islam religion, due to the ongoing civil war between Sunnis and Shia. Most Yemenis are moderate Muslims. While some are poor, many were middle class but have lost their families and homes. In this ‘golden time,’ the church must help them.”

By golden time he means the first three to six months during which migrants secure work and housing for a stable life. He said, “If the church and Christians also exclude and reject them, they could be stimulated to become extremist Muslims. We should meet them from the perspective of loving one’s neighbor.”

Currently in Jeju Island, civil organizations and some Christians are helping out the Yemenis. For example, Rev. Ha Hyeon-yong has invited a Yemeni family with five children to stay with him at his house. In his Facebook posting “To live with a Yemeni refugee family,” he wrote, “I have been unable to sleep, thinking of the words of those who see only what they want to see and hear only what they want to hear… Prayers for the Yemenis are desperately needed.”

Korea Diakonia (standing board member Hong Ju-min) has pleaded, “Refugees are world citizens and our neighbors. Please join in making donations, thinking you are providing them with one meal.”

Reporters Sangmok Shin & Narae Kim (smshin@kmib.co.kr), with Yeara Ahn-Park (yap@kmib.co.kr)

▒ Why Stay Alert

No small number of Christians look at the Yemeni refugee applicants with suspicious eyes. Their grounds are that most of the refugees are Muslim and that it is unclear whether or not they actually came to Jeju to escape from political and religious persecution.

Jeju residents also are disconcerted. Rev. Lee Jeong-il (Seogwipo Myungsung Church), moderator of the Jeju Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church of Korea (PCK Tonghap), said, “Of course we need to take humanitarian measures for these Yemeni refugees who fled from hardship in the Mideast all the way to Jeju. Considering incidents that have occurred in relation to refugees in countries that have already accepted such persons, however, we do worry whether Jeju-do may fall into disorder.”

On the internet, social networking services (SNS), personal blogs and other sites are increasingly expressing cautious sentiments against Islam. A netizen introducing himself as a Christian posted on his Facebook wall, “As in Germany and other countries in Europe, terror and group sexual violence will occur.” An SNS account has even collected 100 some comments referring to anti-human rights and women-abusing practices by Muslims, such as child marriages and female genital mutilation.

There also have been criticisms of unconditional favors given to refugees, arguing that most of the Yemeni refugees came to Jeju for economic reasons, rather than political or religious ones. Rev. Lee Man-seok (Korean Iranin Church) pointed out, “The Muslim refugee applicants in Jeju-do came to Korea to make money… They don’t even fit the definition of refugees according to the United Nations.”

The UN Refugee Convention defines “refugee” as anyone who “owing to well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

Voices have been raised for the need to reorganize refugee laws and application procedures. Rev. Lee emphasized, “Among the refugee applicants, we have often found cases in which their reason for application is different from the truth, and as a consequence, those refugees who actually need Korea’s protection are not properly protected… We also need to take into consideration Christians in the Mideast who are in chaotic political circumstances while being persecuted by Muslims.”

*In photo, Yemeni refugee applicants wait to attend a job fair held at the Jeju Immigration Office on June 16. Photo courtesy of Newsis.

Reporter Hwang Yuntae (truly@kmib.co.kr), with Yeara Ahn-Park (yap@kmib.co.kr)

Original Article in Korean:
[생각해봅시다] “나그네 된 자를 도와야” vs “무슬림 유입 혼란 우려”: 제주에서 예멘인 500여명 난민 신청

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