Back in his home country he was a national athlete
When I first met Ahmed we were just sitting on the floor having a chat, listening to the Yemeni stories of why and how they came to Jeju, and generally just getting to know each other. We had been filming all day with another refugee but naturally were interested in learning more about each of their stories. He was a very lean looking young man and had a smile on his face, and as soon as we mentioned the idea of making a film about him, he got all excited about it and invited us to watch him train without hesitation. Unfortunately, we had to leave Jeju and head back to Seoul the next day, but we kept in contact with him and as soon as we returned to Jeju we made a plan to film with him.
When we met him again, a few weeks later, standing in front of us he had this aura of confidence about him and he was clearly a fit young man with a deep passion for sport.
Back in his home country, he was a national athlete, competing in kickboxing and in July 2013, he was proud to enter the stadium carrying the flag of Yemen at the Incheon Asian Games. Five years later, due to the intensified civil war, he now finds himself staying on Jeju as a humble refugee, with very little choice, no place to call home but still a deep desire to fight and an inspirational passion for sport. Even under these somewhat difficult circumstances, he is an amazingly upbeat and cheerful young man and now stays in a motel not far from Jeju City Hall, paid for by his coach, and where he spends most of his time training or looking for work. We were fortunate enough that he shared his story with us and now we would like to share it with you.
When the civil war broke out, the Yemen Athletic Department banned Ahmed from competing and training and ordered him to join the government forces. It may sound like a patriotic thing to do but at the same time can you imagine being forced to fight in a war you don’t believe in?
I believe that in order to truly understand this, one must have faced a similar action, or been called upon to serve their country, without choice, which I am sure many of you reading this have not been through. Therefore, because of this unique position, I feel it is necessary for us to understand more about the nature of the Yemen civil war.
The civil war currently underway in Yemen is not a matter of protecting the country, and it is a fact that the country is divided into the north and south and so joining to one side makes you chose to aim guns at your brothers, perhaps even people you grew up with. Being caught up in this war was not a choice for many and as usual, the ones suffering are young children, the women and those who do not believe in the war.
Of course, if we take as an example, North Korea and South Korea, there is a fundamental difference from Yemen because the Korean war was a choice between democracy and communism, the sides were drawn on a political ideology. Of course, there was more to it than that but the simple point is the war happened as an extension of the US/Soviet influences. But when it comes to Yemen it is very hard to say that the current government or the rebels are representatives of the people, in fact, what we see is just various groups of factions that constituted the pre-civilized government. This is not some political issue fighting for democracy, this is mostly related to control of power, oil, and resources, and most importantly access between East and West.
The endless airstrikes causing countless death
Both groups, the ‘Houthi rebels’ and the government could be considered good and bad. And as usual, the ones who get hurt the most are the civilians caught up in the middle. The endless airstrikes on buses, churches, military camps, hospitals are now a daily expectation for life in Yemen. And even as recently November 2018, these street battles have raged in residential areas of Yemen’s main port city of Hodeidah, forcing medical staff to flee the largest hospital, as Houthi insurgents tried to repel forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition. This is the daily life of the people of Yemen and although there are some similarities with the Korean War there are many many differences.
Now, after Yemen was divided into North and South it underwent ideological and religious conflicts, mostly stemming out of the Arab springs movement, originated in Tunisia (2010-2012). The country quickly became divided and lines are drawn, so, it literally gave people no choice in picking a side to support, it became more of, either you are with us or against us. And so we saw each armed service, including the police, told to join or you would become an enemy or thrown in prison. This also happened with civilian men, where they were effectively ‘hunted’ down and given the same ultimatum. The only escape was bribery or imprisonment in some military building, however being imprisoned was an eventual death penalty as these buildings were likely pinpointed for airstrikes from the Saudi led coalition.
When thinking about all of the stories we heard, these two groups who lead the war seem to just think that they are fighting only for their political interests and it could well be said from that point of view that both are as bad as each other. This idea was common to all the refugees I met, and I think the story of Ahmed is certainly not the first, nor will it be the last.
Of course, on the flip side of this in Korea, I have seen many people who oppose refugees ask why they flee without fighting for their country. They question whether these refugees are ‘fake’, but it seems to me that they have no interest in looking at Yemen’s history nor listening to the refugee's stories. They decided with prejudice towards Muslims and so, the answer becomes quite simple as to why they chose not to defend their country. There is no form of state or group that should be protected by faith and they all have a belief and don’t want to be forced to defend an ideology.
It may be a romantic idea to picture as the crowd revolts, guns held high, cheering for the revolution but in reality it is never that simple and it is not up to the rebels to rebel against the army of Saudi Arabia and the coalition of other Middle Eastern countries and other western countries. The Saudi and Iranian involvement made things a lot worse, with the situation in Yemen being difficult to say the least, let alone the fact that Yemen has been one of the world's poorest country for decades. It is also true that the society is suffering greatly for many reasons, mostly stemming from the civil war, which has been raging on now since 2015, if not before that and we can actually trace these problems back even further to the division in the 1990s, where it appears they have never really improved, more so they have escalated even further after the assassination of the ex-President Saleh.
He was released from prison after three excruciating days
Coming back to Ahmed's story, his refusal to join the government forces were simple, he didn’t want to fight in a war he didn’t believe in, and from this information we now have we can see why. He just hoped to continue his training and become a professional athlete. However, the government stepped on his desires, his dreams became lost and he ended up being imprisoned in the infamous prison in his home city of Hajjah. This is a prison where the worst of the worst get sent to, and so it’s not an ideal place for anyone to be sent to, let alone a young athlete. Inside he was trapped with 50 men in a small room and without a toilet and barely anything to eat. After several days passed he couldn’t bear it anymore and he made the decision that he had to try and escape somehow.
His family and his colleagues sought ways to bribe officials within the prison, he attempted to bribe bureaucrats who he knew when he was a national sportsman, all in the hope of being released. And eventually, he was released from prison after three excruciating days. As soon as he came out, he headed to Sanaa, a three-hour drive away and there he bought a plane ticket and started the long journey to the south, which takes over 27 hours by bus. It took him more than 50 hours to see the back of Yemen and a similar journey that many others have also taken.
On the bus in Sana'a he had many fears and on his journey to Aden, he had to go through both the government army and insurgent-controlled areas. The biggest fear was that his passport, which had been issued in the port city of Hameido, Namyen. He knew the Government troops were unlikely to admit this passport and he also worried about his birthplace when passing through the rebel-controlled area, where he was Yemeni but on his passport, his birthplace was listed as Saudi Arabia. All of these things did not matter until after the civil war broke out, but during these times this was the difference between life and death and they were the obstacles that could prevent him from escaping.
He moved on from Sana'a via Damar, where he stopped briefly, and then onto Taiz, passing both checkpoints of the government and rebels dozens of times. It was a terrible road, but eventually, he was able to reach Arden, without too much trouble, just a few bribes along the way. (It was a simple journey but during those 27-hours he said he was extremely anxious, which I am sure most of us can understand.)
He then moved on once more and traveled to Khartoum, Sudan, another 3 hours away using Yemen's low-cost airline. After, waiting 12 hours at the airport in Khartoum, he set out on a flight to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. At that time, the crew of Saudi Airlines yelled at all the passengers from Yemen, subjected them to searches and treated them almost like prisoners.
All Yemen passengers get up from your seats
As he boarded the plane just like any other time he was surprised by the hostility towards many of the Yemeni passengers. They were stopped one by one and all the Yemeni passengers were subject to a search on the plane. No other passengers appeared to have this done to them, just the Yemeni’s and the plane wasn’t allowed to embark until the searches were completed. I am sure that not one person reading this has ever been subjected to a search on the actual plane. After the plane took off he flew another five hours and arrived at Jeddah, where he was eventually able to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. However, when arriving in Malaysia, after his 53-hour journey, all in order to avoid forced conscription, he did not see a welcoming party of any sort.
While it may seem strange to us, who can travel around the world without a visa, Yemen is required to obtain a visa when visiting almost every country. In fact, with the ease of travel around the world it is very rare that we need to obtain a visa entering various countries, but it seems that many of today's generations do not know about restrictions. Ahmed first wanted to go to Thailand, because of Muay Thai. He thought there would be some opportunities there for someone with his fighting talents. But it was almost impossible for him to get a visa, and there were only a few foreign embassies in Yemen. Due to the civil war, they have either been destroyed or abandoned. Despite trying to obtain a visa through the nearest Thai embassy in Jordan, the situation within the country made it almost impossible and so once again his options became smaller and smaller.
Ahmed's option was to choose Malaysia, as Yemeni people are able to stay for up to three months on a tourist visa, as long as they can prove some financial capability. So, just 7 days since his imprisonment, he finally set foot in the land of Malaysia, and finally breathe a little better than before.
Of course, the Malaysian immigration office was aware of the Yemen situation and that of the Yemeni people, many of whom fled to enter Malaysia after the civil war started and ended up stuck without a place to go. In any case, what choice did he have?
So, he headed to the gate and would allow his fate to be decided. The officer then guided him to a separate interview room, as he expected, and asked for a detailed explanation of the reasons why he was entering and for his identity. Among the documents prepared for the escape, Ahmed was fortunate to have an invitation to a college graduation from a friend who is studying in Malaysia. If it had not been for the invitation, he would have most certainly been fated to be denied entry. After sometime he was allowed entry and the weight on his shoulders lifted just a bit.
He stayed in Kuala Lumpur for just two months with the help of his friend, but every day he feared he would be kicked out. In this situation, there appears to be very little hope for the future and desperate hope calls for desperate actions. By this point, there were literally no countries allowing Yemeni refugees entrance.
A story be-fitting to a K-drama
Whilst living back in Yemen, Ahmed had seen some Korean dramas on TV, but not once did he think he would be heading to Jeju in search of a new place to rest his head. Perhaps the only country in Asia with civil law and a past not dissimilar to the present in Yemen, a country that has suffered tragedy, and been divided into North and South, could this place could be the answer.
“I knew about Korea because Korean dramas are also popular in Yemen. Although I only knew a little I watched more when I was in Malaysia and when I visited in 2013, this place gave me a sense of warmth and joy, and I was always greeted by nice people, willing to help me and a welcoming crowd. But now that I am back on my own, Korea's refugee recognition rate has once again made me anxious”.
The anxiety seems to be well placed, as we saw when the Yemeni people started arriving on Jeju, the reaction was somewhat unnecessary, but as Korea is going through a protesting trend these days, it was easy to see it happening. All Ahmed could think at this time was that he will be expelled from Malaysia and so he had no more options left.
“I had no choice but to leave for Jeju, it was my last resort”.
“In Malaysia, I brought a flight ticket through the internet and I boarded a flight heading to Jeju. As expected, I saw many Yemeni people on the airplane”. It reminded him of his memories when first arriving in Malaysia and made him feel once again tense and wonder about what will happen in the coming hours.
“At Jeju International Airport, I encountered more Yemeni people in the line waiting for entrance to the island. However, I thought there will be a record of me visiting Korea in 2013, and so I just waited”. All he knew was that Korea was the only country in Asia allowing refugees, although he was unaware of the whole situation that was unraveling on the mainland.
As his turn approached and he stood before the judging panel. The immigration staff looked at the passport with suspicion and when he was asked if he had ever visited Korea before, he, of course, replied, "Yes." However, there was no visit stamp in the passport because it was in his old passport, and so he mentioned that he had participated in the Incheon Asian Games as a national representative at the time.
He showed a photo of his old passport and the visa to the officer and that was that, he was finally allowed entrance and the weight on his shoulders once again began to lift, and life felt a little more relaxed. "I thought the time would never end, it felt like everything slowed down around me" he recalled. “My worries then disappeared and time returned to normal when the officer stamped my passport, looked up and me and said”,
"Welcome to Korea"
He is my saviour!
“After arriving on Jeju I had to try and find my place and it was very tough, to begin with. I didn’t realise there were so many other Yemeni here but as I walked around I started to meet more and more. And after visiting the immigration office, I saw so many, it was quite surprising. I ended up sharing an apartment with several others for about 1 month and found it quite hard to get work. I didn’t speak the language, I found the food a little difficult to eat all the time, but was thankful there was some help. The biggest problem was there were so many others in the same situation as me. We were all looking for work so we could eat and live but there wasn’t much available”.
As we heard in the news on several occasions the only jobs available were working on the fishing boats or restaurants. There was some money raised in donations but not enough to really spread between the entire collective. So, they had to find ways of making money in order to really live. This is quite a simple idea to grasp. These people want to fend for themselves, which means trying to earn some money in order to eat. They didn't come here to buy property or land, they came in order to escape a war.
“I tried working on a fishing boat, but I am from the North of Yemen, a mountain city, I am not a fisherman and although I really appreciated the work, I realised it was just something I couldn’t do. I came to Korea with the hope of living my dream, being a professional athlete and every day it felt like my dreams were drifting away from me”.
"After losing my place to live, I had no money, and I just wanted somewhere to rest my head. But it seemed that I wasn't to be allowed. I never thought I would be in this type of situation in my life but I wanted to try and see some positive points. I found myself walking the streets with my bag, and nowhere to go. So, trying to see the positive side of life I knew that many parks in Korea have exercise machines, so I went and slept in a park not far from the hotel I could no longer afford. I was desperate but I never gave up hope for my future. I continued my training in the park. I was homeless once again and I am sure many people in this situation would have just given up but I am a fighter and so when I am at the bottom, the only way is up. I knew things would be hard but if I stayed positive and continued training, pushing myself the only way is up".
After 3 more days he was fortunate to find a restaurant job and made some small money to help. "I worked in the kitchen of a restaurant with some other refugees and the owner allowed us to stay in a room whilst we were working there. He was kind and offered food and drink, mostly rice, some fish and side dishes. So, I think he was a little offended when we passed on eating some of the food, except one of the refugees who ate. I guess he really wanted to keep the job and so he just did everything he could to keep it. As time passed the owner of the restaurant became more frustrated with us and so eventually he asked us to leave, except the one who was eating the food he supplied. We had nowhere to go, so we stayed in the room secretly until the owner came in two days later and found us. At that point, several days later, everyone was asked to leave, so we had to move from the apartment".
Once again he was back to where he had been just 1 month ago, so again he didn’t know what to do. He had very little money, nowhere to live and found himself just walking around the streets. It was then he decided to call the kickboxing President that he had met in 2013 and ask him for some help. The message was sent and now it was just a waiting game to see when he replies.
"Finally, I got a message telling me to go to a gym not far from City Hall. So, I started walking with all of my luggage in search of my next step in life. I had already met the coach before as he had come to visit me when I stayed in the house, but I was once again at the bottom, so I just felt that I had nothing to lose. I met him at the gym to see if he can help me. As soon as I walked into the gym my coach told me to spar with one of the other younger coaches. He wanted to check my fitness, condition and my skills and it was so hard. But from that moment I could feel my life change. I felt I had found my Korean ‘father’". The coach from that day started to pay for his room and helps him train almost every day.
“Everyday I want to hug him and thank him for everything he has done for me. He is my saviour”.
After listening to Ahmed and many other Yemen refugee stories, it made me a lot more interested in finding out more about the war in Yemen as well as exploring how the relationship between Korea and Yemen has developed over the years. As I researched many things became very clear to me about the situation and I came to understand in more detail why it was an obvious choice that the refugees decided to leave in search of a safer place.
Yemen is a country sitting on substantial oil and gas reserves, which Saudi Arabia and its allies want to control
I will start with Korea and the fact that it has had a long relationship with countries in the Middle East, even Yemen, and most importantly these relationships are particularly related to oil, gas, construction or arms deals.
In 2005, Korea Gas Corporation (known as Kogas) is the world’s largest LNG importer. Kogas operates three LNG terminals and a nationwide pipeline network in Korea and has agreements to import 2 Mtpa of LNG from Yemen LNG for 20 years. As a partner in Oman LNG and Ras Laffan LNG, Kogas has proved its capability and reliability in the upstream business and is actively expanding its business in overseas LNG projects using its accumulated expertise in the global LNG industry to pursue its goal of becoming a world-class integrated energy company.
And in 2014, Yemen LNG, a joint venture of international energy firms and the Yemeni government, was in the process of renegotiating these contracts. South Korea’s Korean Gas Corporation (KOGAS), a 6% shareholder in Yemen LNG, recently agreed to purchase gas for a price closer to market value. But efforts to convince Total, the French multinational that is the largest shareholder in Yemen LNG, to do the same have proven fruitless. Defenders of the agreement say that the rates paid by Total and others were the only way to guarantee funds to build a new gas plant in southern Yemen, which at $4 billion was the largest foreign investment in the country’s history. Such investors are hard to replace. Many foreign firms are wary of investing in Yemen since its oil and gas are located in some of most volatile provinces. Attacks on infrastructure are common. The Yemen LNG shareholders are the Yemeni government, represented by Yemen Gas Company (23.10%), Total (42.90%), Hunt Oil Company (18%) and South Korea’s SK Corporation (10%) and Hyundai Corporation (6%). Under the agreements with Kogas, the utility will acquire a 6% interest in Yemen LNG in the near future.
I am sure that most Korean citizens are not aware of where the LNG comes from that fuels their taxis and buses, so now you know. Also, SK Innovation Co., Ltd. participated in Yemen LNG as the leader of Korean consortium comprising SK Innovation Co., Ltd., Samwhan Corporation and Korea National Oil Corporation. The Korean consortium also has 24.5% of the exploration and production interests in the Marib fields in Yemen, which came on stream in 1987.
This only goes to show that Yemen has valuable resources that other middle eastern countries would probably like a share of. In fact "63% of Yemen's crude production is being stolen by Saudi Arabia in cooperation with Mansour Hadi, the fugitive Yemeni president, and his mercenaries," Mohammad Abdolrahman Sharafeddin told FNA on Tuesday.
"Saudi Arabia has set up an oil base in collaboration with the French Total company in the Southern parts of Kharkhir region near the Saudi border province of Najran and is exploiting oil from the wells in the region," he added. How the plot thickens! And in fact, the provinces of Marib, Jawf, Shabwa, and Hadramout owns oil and gas wealth, of which scientific research and international companies are estimated to explore beyond the Gulf oil. And in the last three decades, there has been a Saudi, American and Western agreement to block Yemen from benefiting oil stocks so that it cannot develop the economy and its society.
"Saudi Arabia has signed a secret agreement with the US to prevent Yemen from utilizing its oil reserves over the past 30 years," Yemeni Economist Hassan Ali al-Sanaeri told FNA on Sunday.In relevant remarks in early April (2013), a political analyst and researcher said, the US-backed Saudi Arabian war against Yemen is neither about the longstanding sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shiites nor about the much-discussed military campaign aimed against al-Qaeda in the region.
"While Western media outlets usually refer to Yemen as a small energy producer, the truth of the matter is the country is sitting on substantial oil and gas reserves, which Saudi Arabia and its allies want to control," the Russian news agency Sputnik quoted US political analyst Phil Butler as saying.
"Given the nature of the country's (Saudi Arabia's) oil reserves, and almost unlimited production for decades, it's possible the Saudis could simply be running out of gas," the American analyst stressed. So, if there was any doubt about why the Saudi's are backing the Yemeni government here is some proof they are really in it for the money! And the US has been well aware of Yemen's resources for some time. The Obama administration has long been aware of Yemen's substantial gas capacity. He quotes Ambassador Stephen A. Seche's 2008 secret cable, published by Wikileaks, which reads "that the governorates of Shabwah, Ma'rib, and al-Jawf have high potential for significant gas deposits."
As for oil, according to the detailed 2002 United States Geological Survey (USGS), Yemen possesses vast offshore oil reservoirs in addition to its 3 billion barrels of proved oil reserves, the analyst underscores. That is why neither the Obama administration nor European governments are rushing to help the Yemenis being bombed and shelled by Riyadh: all of them have their own vested interests in the Middle East. Further information about the largest source of oil in the world is in Yemen, the area that extends some of its sections to Saudi Arabia at a depth of 1800 meters, in a border area called Al-Jawf, only that vast reservoir is under the land of Yemen, and regarded the first in the world, in terms of inventory, where if Saudi Arabia has 34% of global oil reserves, from the discovery of oil in Yemen makes Yemen to owns 34% of the extra global stocks.
Yemen, as we know, contains proven crude oil reserves of more than 4 billion barrels (640,000,000 m3), although these reserves are not expected to last more than 9 years, and output from the country's older fields is falling, a concern since oil provides around 90% of the country's exports. Most of Yemen's GDP comes from its limited oil production, which accounts for about 85 percent of export earnings and 75 percent of government revenue. Therefore, confirming that these port harbors play a vital element in the economy of Yemen, due to being the most natural and logical place for shipping across the world. The Port of Aden, in 2018, actually witnessed a steady growth during the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, and the handling rate is now the largest during the past ten years. From January to June 2018 it reached 333 vessels, an increase of 6% over the same period last year and the shipped cargo reaching 570,266 tons, an increase of 115% weighing 1,062,097 tons, an increase of up to 194% from last year. But where is this much-needed money going, into the hands of the already rich SA coalition or is it finding its way into the Yemen economy?
This only goes to prove that not only do Saudi, USA and other countries have a major interest in Yemen, we can also conclude South Korea also has a significant financial vested interested in the country as well.
Yemen is undeniably the world's worst humanitarian crisis by far
The war rages on, and from an outside perspective it appears to be a 'civil war', there is no doubt about that, but when we start to dig a little bit deeper we can see there is a lot more to it than that and it is surrounded by money, oil, natural resources, shipping zones and of course power. And who are the ones suffering from this, the civilian men, women and children. The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that Yemen is on the brink of a full-blown famine, with 18 million of its 29 million population food insecure, 8.4 million severely so.
"Yemen is a disaster and I don't see any light at the end of the tunnel right now," WFP's Executive Director David Beasley told reporters at a closed briefing during the UN General Assembly in New York City on Thursday.
"Yemen is undeniably the world's worst humanitarian crisis by far," said Beasley.
UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock issued a dire warning to the Security Council on Friday, ahead of the world body's General Assembly, saying, "We are losing the fight against famine" in Yemen.
"We may now be approaching a tipping point, beyond which it will be impossible to prevent massive loss of life as a result of widespread famine across the country," he said. "We are already seeing pockets of famine-like conditions, including cases where people are eating leaves."
Across Yemen, around 2.9 million women and children are acutely malnourished; another 400,000 children are fighting for their lives, in the same condition as Zaifa was. This year, the UN and humanitarian groups provided assistance to more than 8 million of the most vulnerable Yemenis who don't know when their next meal will come. That is a dramatic expansion from 2017, when food was reaching 3 million people a month in the country of nearly 29 million.
And as I previously mentioned in my Paradise Lost article, a UN report stated that this is the world’s largest man-made food security crisis. The crisis is not driven by a lack of food in the country but rather, Yemen’s food crisis is driven by factors constraining the supply, distribution and people’s diminishing purchasing power. Ongoing conflict and economic decline have steadily eroded people’s coping mechanisms, leaving large parts of the population at the risk of famine. All of which is due to the intervention of the Saudi government in blocking the necessary importing of goods into Aden and other ports.
Late last year, the Kota Nazar, a Singaporean ship with 636 containers of steel, paper, medicine and other goods, set sail to Hodeida, the largest cargo port in war-torn Yemen. It never got there. Like dozens of other ships carrying food and supplies to Yemen over the past 30 months, the Kota Nazar was stopped by a Saudi Arabian warship blocking Yemen’s ports on the Red Sea. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies have been stationing naval forces in and around Yemeni waters since 2015. Western governments approved the show of military force as a way to stop arms reaching Houthi fighters trying to overthrow Yemen’s internationally recognized government.
The result of all of this is the continuing impact on the Yemen civilians, especially the children.
As i previously wrote in my last piece, Since 2015, some 848 Syrian refugees have applied for refugee status here, with just 3, less than 1%, of them eventually be approved, the rest given humanitarian visas. And according to further statistics from the Ministry of Justice, 40,470 people have applied for refugee status since 1994 and Korea has accepted just 839 or 4.1%. In comparison to other countries approval ratios who are significantly higher, Germany 31.7%, Mexico 55.7%, Canada 51.8 and even the average OECD stands at 24.8%, six times higher than that of South Korea. What the South Korean government and immigration have done is bracket these Yemeni refugees and have decided to give them humanitarian visas. They may have listened to their stories during the interviews they did but did the really listen. It seems that after talking with several of the refugees they fit into a category of 'refugee', deemed by the refugee charter but it would appear that Korea's bureaucratic state is standing in the way of approving them.
To Korean immigration officials, fleeing war is not sufficient grounds for asylum, said Chae Hyun-young, a legal officer at the United Nations’ refugee office in Seoul. Applicants must also be at risk of persecution. “And they focus on whether the applicant has suffered persecution in the past, rather than whether they would suffer in the future if returned home,” Ms. Chae said.
They have denied refugee status on a lack of evidence. But if you look closely and open your minds to their situation it becomes quite clear why they don't have additional 'paperwork' or evidence to show what their status is like back in their home country.
When was the last time you left home and carried all your documentation with you? When was the last time you were stopped at a rebel-controlled checkpoint and casually asked the guards for some paperwork?
It blows my mind to think that anyone in their right mind would ever consider doing this, but the immigration service is asking for more documentation or evidence to prove these people are in danger if they were to return home. I suggest watching the news, read some articles or perhaps actually listen to their stories. If they spent just a short time looking and researching into Yemen and the current war it is going through, maybe they would be more open to the discussion.
But, from what I see they are creating points so they can deny refugee status on any ground possible. You only have to look at the statistics to see South Korea has very little interest in supporting refugees and until the people's mindset is changed this will, unfortunately, continue to happen.
If more people are aware of stories, such as Ahmed’s I truly believe it will open up their minds to a deeper and more rational conversation about their status in Korea. In the meantime I will continue to write and produce films that highlight what they have been through, currently going through and their aspirations for the future.
Ahmed’s future is uncertain but his passion is unquestionable. He has recently moved to the mainland in search of work as a kickboxing trainer and I will continue to talk and work with him in the future and as his life progresses. I will endeavour to write an updated piece in a few months and also, the short film about him titled, Passion, which is being produced in association with the UNHCR will hopefully be released mid to late December.
This article was published under the consent of Ahmed Askar.
For the most up to date statistics about the refugee intake in South Korea, or any other country you can visit;
Neil P. George is a film maker producing content related to South Korea, social and human rights issues. He is also an assistant professor lecturing on film, documentary and editing in the Visual Production department at Dong-Ah Institute of Media and Arts.