By Josh Smith
SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea has denied refugee status but granted temporary stay permits to hundreds of Yemeni asylum seekers who arrived on the southern island of Jeju this year, the Ministry of Justice announced on Wednesday.
More than 500 Yemenis sought refugee in South Korea between January and May, having fled the war that has engulfed their homeland.
The influx of asylum seekers to South Korea – which has only granted refugee status to 839 of 40,470 applicants from various countries since 1994, not including defectors from North Korea – sparked a backlash and led to the government tightening immigration laws in June.
A total of 481 Yemenis have applied for asylum, with 362 granted temporary humanitarian stay permits, the ministry said in a statement.
Another 34 applications were rejected with no permits issued because officials determined they had criminal records or were seeking asylum for economic reasons, the ministry said.
A final 85 cases are still being processed.
Most of the Yemenis flew into the resort island of Jeju, where they have largely been blocked from leaving for mainland South Korea.
On June 1, South Korea dropped Yemen from a list of countries whose citizens do not require a visa when entering the country.
Under the humanitarian stay permits, the refugees will be able to leave Jeju.
Yemen has been locked in civil war for the past three years, with aid agencies warning that the country is in danger of tipping into famine if fighting continues to disrupt imports of food aid.
South Korea’s justice ministry said it was granting the one-year humanitarian stays on the understanding it would revoke the permits if the situation improves in Yemen.
(Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)