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South Korea Dispatch: Migrants Expected Warm Welcome on Korean Resort Island. They Were Wrong.

Why Jeju?

Jeju’s popularity as a domestic vacation spot has been waning, as South Koreans with rising incomes have begun flying to more far-flung destinations abroad.

So to revitalize the tourist industry, the island was granted permission in 2002 to introduce a no-visa policy for most foreign visitors, which filled its hotels with tourists from China and Southeast Asia.

When AirAsia began running direct budget flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Jeju in December, the island suddenly caught the attention of Yemeni asylum seekers, who saw it as a steppingstone into mainland South Korea because they, too, were exempt from visas.

Thousands of Yemenis had fled to Malaysia because of the Muslim connection and because the country did not require tourist visas for them. But they could not stay there more than 90 days and the country would not grant them refugee status, so Jeju beckoned as a safe haven.

In the first five months of this year, 561 Yemenis arrived, up from 51 for all of last year.

Mr. Junaid, who arrived on May 29, made it just in time. On June 1, South Korea added Yemen to the list of 11 other countries that need visas to enter Jeju.

On April 30, a month before Mr. Junaid showed up, the government had banned the 487 Yemeni asylum seekers still on Jeju from leaving for the mainland while their applications for refugee status were reviewed.

“Jeju was our best option,” said Jamal Nasiri, 43, a former agricultural official in Yemen, who came here in May with his wife and five daughters, aged 8 to 18. “We think about our future, how to keep our children safe and send them to school for a better life, because we are humans.”

Source: NYT > World

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