June 20 (UPI) — South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s Blue House is to investigate the case of the 500 Yemeni nationals who are seeking asylum on the southern island of Jeju.
The Yemenis, who recently entered South Korea through Jeju, a visa-free port of entry, had traveled from Malaysia, where their term of stay has expired this year.
Of the 561Yemenis who entered Jeju this year, 519 are seeking refugee status.
The South Korean government has responded to the large group of asylum seekers with a ban on visa-free entry for Yemeni nationals to Jeju, which went into effect on June 1.
The move may have come as South Korean groups raised concerns about the refugees.
Moon spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom said Wednesday the residents of Jeju have “voiced worries and concerns.”
Ahead of a review of the asylum applications, Kim said Seoul could allow the Yemenis a right to work in South Korea before the end of a six-month moratorium, citing “humanitarian needs,” according to newspaper Chosun Ilbo.
The permits will allow the Yemenis to work in agriculture as they receive other forms of support.
“To address their financial difficulties, we will provide free medical care and supplies including bread, and flour,” Kim said.
Groups of South Koreans are divided over the refugees.
Civic activists said Wednesday in Seoul the government should not discriminate against the refugees, while commemorating World Refugee Day, local news service Money Today reported.
Others are opposed and have begun a petition to Moon, calling on the government to revoke refugee permits.
The petition has gained more than 200,000 signatures.
Angry online commenters have claimed the Yemenis are “fake refugees” who seek to take away low-wage jobs, the Hankyoreh reported Tuesday.
South Korea is a signatory to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention.