Woong-jae Shin

The Visitors from 8,000km Away
Location: Seoul
Nationality: South Korean
Biography: Shin Woong-jae is a South Korean photojournalist based in New York and Seoul. He majored Linguistics and studied Semiotics at Korea University in Seoul, South Korea, before starting photography. His semiotics studies led him to brand marketing,... read on
Public Story
The Visitors from 8,000km Away
Credits: shin woong-jae
Date of Work: 06/25/18 - Ongoing
Updated: 10/08/20
Location: Jeju

From 2018 April to May, 561 Yemeni refugees arrived in Jeju island in South Korea, and 549 of them applied for refugee status. The refugee issue which has never been discussed publicly soon became a national issue.

Many people insist that South Korea must open to those who escaped from the inhumane war and should accept more refugees to South Korea territory. Unfortunately, however, people who claim those Yemeni refugees as fake ones, accuse Muslims as terrorists and hate Islam for fear of contaminating Korean culture are gaining louder voices. For instance, as of the end of July 2018, more than 700,000 people have demanded to expel Yemeni refugees from South Korea on the requests forum in the Korean Presidential office website.

Humanitarian stance and approach to the refugee are acutely needed in South Korea, but at the same time, we need to avoid over sympathizing them which might lead to marginalizing them. Most importantly, hatred due to lack of knowledge or to pure malice must be abolished. Discussions, deducing mutual consent in South Korean society are urgently needed.

Here are a couple of facts as a starting point of discussion about the refugee issue in South Korea.

According to the South Korea Ministry of Justice, 40,470 people applied for refugee status since 1994, and the country accepted 839 of them only as of 2018 May. It's only 4.1%. Germany's refugee approval ratio is 31.7%, Mexico's is 55.7%, Canada's is 51.8%, OECD countries average is 24.8%.

In 2015, 848 Syrian refugees had applied for refugee status as of October 2015 in South Korea, and many people and major news media insisted the country should accept them. Only 3 of them are approved as refugees.

UNHCR, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has one of its roots on UNKRA, United Nations Korea Reconstruction Agency, which was formed to help refugees from the Korean War in 1950. South Korea was a refugee country as well.

Yemen has been in a war since 2015, and according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 5,144 civilians, including more than 1,184 children, had been killed and more than 8,749 civilians wounded since the conflict began in March 2015 until August 2017.*  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that more than two-thirds of the population was in need of humanitarian assistance and at least 2.9  million people had fled their homes.* (*excerpt from Amnesty report)


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