|Liberty Korea Party lawmakers at the National Assembly hall in Seoul on Sept. 7 hold signs saying 'Send Fake Refugees back, Abolish Refugee Act.' Yonhap|
|Kim Byong-joon, the party's leader, speaks during a special forum on refugee issues, in front of a banner that says 'Koreans First.' Yonhap|
By Jung Min-ho
A party that once demanded better protection for asylum seekers in Korea is now turning its back on them.
Last week, Rep. Cho Kyoung-tae, the chairman of the main conservative Liberty Korea Party's committee on refugee issues, held a forum at the National Assembly to discuss whether the country needs to abolish the Refugee Act amid safety concerns.
Dozens of lawmakers participated, including the party's leader Kim Byong-joon. He said it is time for lawmakers to "put top priority on dispelling the fears of our citizens" and urged them to "harmonize opinions" for the sake of their country.
Cho agreed. "We should remember that 78 percent of people in their 20s are opposed to the idea of accepting Yemeni asylum seekers on Jeju Island … Our party should take the initiative in repealing the law."
Participants did not issue a joint statement after the event, but lined up at the Assembly hall for photos while holding signs saying "Send Fake Refugees Back, Abolish Refugee Act."
This is a drastic U-turn on the party's refugee policy.
Hwang Woo-yea, a former lawmaker of the Saenuri Party (the old name of the Liberty Korea Party), spearheaded the effort to pass the Refugee Act just six years ago for better treatment of asylum seekers.
The law guarantees the same basic social security benefits as Korean citizens, including housing, medical and educational services. It also stipulates the principle of family reunion, providing entry for the spouse and minor children of a recognized refugee.
But fears about refugees are pressing conservative parties to shift their policies and forcing the liberal ones, including the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, to rethink their more open stance toward refugees.
A petition against the Refugee Act on the Cheong Wa Dae website has been signed by nearly 715,000 people ― the highest number since the presidential office opened the website in August 2017.
Korea is already known as one of the world's most rigid countries when it comes to granting legal refugee status. Last year, only 121 people ― or 1.2 percent of the 9,942 who applied ― obtained the status.