What They Said is a regular series on the quotes Korea is talking about.
The future of Korean football
The 2018 World Cup is on, and people from around the world are in Russia to root for their teams. South Korea made it to the group stage again this year, and nearly 2,000 Red Devils flew to Russia as well to cheer on the national team. There were high hopes, but after a defeat to Sweden, Korea also lost to Mexico on Saturday. Although there isn’t much chance of Korea progressing to the round of 16, the Korean team is gearing up for its match with Germany on June 27.
After Korea was defeated 1-2 against Mexico, Park Ji-sung, a former footballer who now serves as a club ambassador for Manchester United, made a pointed remark about the future of South Korean football.
I believe that today, [Korean] players demonstrated all the skills they had. There were two unfortunate [refereeing] decisions that resulted in today’s [defeat], but other than that, I think there were moments when we were threatening, enough to win the game. I don’t have the slightest bit of doubt that our players did their best. Only, I think that this is the level, the reality of Korean football. For our team to do better, we shouldn’t be telling the national team and the players to improve their skills. Instead, it seems that the more important things are: what is the future direction of football in Korea overall? How can we shake off the darkness behind the scenes rather than simply changing what is visible? How much do we want to break through the wall and push forward?… I don’t believe that the transformation will come about easily. But unless football people come together and bring about change, even if they have to make sacrifices, I think that we will see the same thing that happened this year every four years.
— Park Ji-sung. June 23, 2018.
Another issue that has recently surfaced in Korea is the increasing presence of Yemeni refugees on Jeju Island. A civil war in Yemen has left 22.5 million people, 75 percent of the population, exposed to danger and in need of humanitarian aid, including food and shelter. Refugees first headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which granted visa-free entry to Yemenis for 90 days. However, when the extensions for their stay were denied by the Malay government, Yemenis were forced to look elsewhere to settle. Until recently, South Korea granted visa-free entry to Yemenis for 30 days, so when Air Asia launched low-cost direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Jeju Island, many Yemenis grasped the opportunity. The island saw a huge influx applying for asylum this year (0 in 2015, 7 in 2016, 42 in 2017, and 519 as of May 2018). It seemed that Yemenis hoped to travel to Seoul and apply for asylum, but as of April 30, the South Korean government took measures to confine Yemenis to Jeju Island. And on June 1, the Ministry of Justice excluded Yemen from the list of countries in the visa-free entry program. Around 300 Yemenis in Jeju have now been granted temporary work permits, while their asylum applications are processed, and are looking for work to earn their keep.
Public opinion is not favorable for the Yemenis in Jeju, or “Jemenis”. Although they have all come to Korea legally, fake news about the South Korean government spending 1,380,000 won every month on each Jemeni refugee has spread like wildfire across social media sites, and a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website requesting that the government deny visas to Jemenis received over 300,000 signatures. Even when Jung Woo-sung, a popular Korean movie star and the first Korean UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, posted a non-controversial message about supporting refugees on the World Refugee Day on June 20, many Korean netizens expressed disapproval.
One of the more vocal critics of Jemenis is Yoo Byeong-gyun, advisor to the Association of Jeju Province Residents for Refugee Control. He criticized the use of the term ‘refugees’ to refer to the Yemenis in Jeju, saying that some of them may not be refugees.
Right now, even the media says, “Jeju Yemeni refugees” and “refugees”, but legally speaking, they’re not refugees. They’re only refugees when they are recognized as refugees through screening according to our government’s Refugee Act…Therefore [using the term refugees] could cause confusion among the public and viewers. But they might be refugees or they might not be refugees. I would prefer it for the media to simply call them “refugee applicants”.
— Yoo Byeong-gyun. June 20, 2018.
Shin Gang-hyeop, Director of the Jeju Peace Human Rights Center, expressed his concern regarding the Yemeni hatred that is rise in Korean society and attempted to quell public anxiety:
Now, these people are not saints, but they’re not terrible criminals either. They’re just ordinary people, like us. And I don’t believe that the Republic of Korea’s judicial system is so lax. During the initial screening, we filter out [criminals] thoroughly. And when the remaining people register as foreigners [residing in Korea], particularly in regions outside of the Seoul area, they are required to report changes of address and everything, very thoroughly, and are managed.
— Shin Gang-hyeop. June 20, 2018
The central government has not made any official statement on the issue yet, and it seems that the controversy surrounding refugees will continue for a while longer.
The death of a politician
Kim Jong-pil, a politician and founder of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, passed away on June 23 at the age of 92. During his political career, he served as Prime Minister twice, once under President Park Chung-hee, and again under President Kim Dae-jung. Although Kim has been at the center of Korean politics for several decades, he remains a controversial figure for being a member of the successful May 16 coup d’état that put Park Chung-hee in power, for founding and heading one of the most infamous organizations in Korea, as well as for his involvement in corruption scandals. Therefore, when the South Korean government announced the likelihood of awarding Kim the Mugunghwa Medal, the highest Order of Civil Merit, people began to speak out regarding the government’s decision.
On June 24, Sim Sang-jung of the Justice Party paid a visit to pay her respects to the deceased, but regarding the Mugunghwa Medal, she pointedly remarked,
“A medal is more than simply commemorating someone’s contribution; it is an assessment of whether someone is a model example for future generations. It should be granted when there is a national consensus regarding their merits and demerits… He was a leading member of the May 16 military coup, but he also served as a member of the peaceful political transition. Considering his many aspects, it is too soon to conclude whether he is worthy of a medal or not.
— Sim Sang-jung. June 24, 2018.