Outbreaks of anger among Jeju residents directed toward Yemeni asylum seekers

Posted on : 2018-07-02 17:05 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Local residents who help migrants being targeted
Yemeni asylum seekers wait for their turn at a refugee job fair at the Jeju Immigration Office on June 18. (Park Seung-hwa
Yemeni asylum seekers wait for their turn at a refugee job fair at the Jeju Immigration Office on June 18. (Park Seung-hwa

Jeju residents are experiencing fatigue from coping with the 549 Yemenis who have arrived on the island to flee a civil war at home. Now anger is being directed at the residents who moved to offer “emergency relief” for Yemenis neglected by the central government and public system. Complaints about the authorities’ neglect are also mounting at Jeju workplaces that answer immigration authorities’ urgent request to hire Yemeni workers. Critics are accusing the government of continuing to focus on what is “convenient for Seoul” in its response, while residents of the island where the Yemenis have taken up residence are taking active steps to resolve the refugee issue.

One Yemeni family recently decided to find accommodations on the outskirts of Jeju City after previously staying at the home of a family of Jeju residents in Jeju City Center. The reason was the outpouring of objections from neighbors after press exposure resulted in news getting out of the refugees staying door. People posted messages online about visiting the family’s home to harm them. Instead of being applauding for their generosity in sharing their house to protect the safety of a refugee family with nowhere else to go, the family found their own safety threatened.

According to the Jeju Refugee Countermeasures Committee, these sorts of cases – where Jeju residents end up suffering after taking in Yemeni refugees without any official support – have become a routine occurrence.

Conflict has also erupted at workplaces that were hastily opened to the Yemeni visitors. Last month, the Jeju Immigration Office provided assistance in placing Yemeni refugee applicants in fishing boat, fishery, and restaurant jobs for which few South Koreans apply. But now the owners of the fishing boats and fishery businesses that offered jobs are facing difficulties as more and more of the refugee applicants quit due to a lack of understanding of the workplace or communication issues with the owners.

“In a lot of cases, the refugee applicants dived into working on fishing boats without any understanding of the working environment there, and they ended up complaining of seasickness and quitting,” explained a source with the Jeju Fisheries Cooperative.

“There has been a lot of grumbling from the boat owners,” the source added.

According to the fishing cooperative, over 70 of the 180 or so Yemenis who found jobs at fisheries had quit as of June 29.

“The immigration office authorities merely helped with the placement, without doing anything in terms of post-management,” a fish culture cooperative source said.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

The situation for the Yemenis is similarly uncertain. On June 28, The Hankyoreh visited five Yemenis in their twenties who were sharing a two-person room at a tourist hotel in downtown Jeju. None of them had yet found a job. Three of the room’s residents, including 22-year-old “Abdullah,” found fishing boat jobs, but recently left after being unable to handle them. They made the decision to quit after repeatedly suffering from seasickness and vomiting due to the rolling waves in the sea during the rainy season.

“I put up with it for a week, but all I did was throw up, and I finally left the boat,” said Abdullah.

“Ahmed,” a 29-year-old who suffered a severe injury to one leg during the civil war, said, “Even if you apply for jobs at fisheries or restaurants, the owners don’t want to hire you.”

“We can’t rely on others forever. I want to be self-sufficient,” he said. Without any livelihood support available, the Yemenis have had to depend on others when they cannot find jobs to earn money for themselves.

Indifference from central government

Some activists have taken issue with the central government’s complacency in leaving the refugee issue for Jeju Island to handle on its own. Caught off guard by the flood of refugee applications, the government’s only measures in response have been to grant early permission to find employment and impose a ban on mainland travel – effectively confining the refugees to Jeju.

“At the moment, Jeju residents are on their own in dealing with the difficult issue of refugees, which is a question that all of South Korean society should be tackling,” said Kim Seong-in, who chairs the Jeju Refugee Countermeasures Committee.

“The biggest disappointment has been the early response from the Ministry of Justice and other agencies, which have failed to manage conflicts,” he said, adding that the government should take belated action now in working actively at conflict resolution.

With jobs representing the most efficient means of assisting the Yemenis in adjusting, some have suggested there should be support for them to find employment in areas that do not put them in conflict with South Koreans.

“Unlike the migrant workers who come to South Korea through the employment permit system, the Yemenis receive only about one to two hours of training before they are rushed into jobs, so confusion has been somewhat inevitable,” said Shin Kang-hyeop, director of Jeju Peace and Human Rights Institute Wat.

“We need more proactive efforts from authorities after people have found jobs, including things like providing interpreting services and mediating between employers and Yemenis,” Shin suggested.

Kim advised that restrictions on what jobs Yemenis can be hired for be “loosened within the scope of what doesn’t put them in conflict with Jeju residents for jobs.”

“There first need to be measures to allow families with small children to go and join the Muslim community in the Seoul area, where they can live stable lives,” he suggested.

By Lim Jae-woo, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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