South Korea refuses refugee status for nearly 400 Yemenis

The arrival of Yemeni refugees triggered a wave of anti-immigrant sentiments in South Korea. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018

South Korea refuses refugee status for nearly 400 Yemenis

  • About 500 people from Yemen arrived on Jeju earlier this year
  • A recent opinion poll showed about half of South Koreans opposed accepting the Yemeni asylum-seekers

SEOUL: Nearly 400 Yemenis were denied refugee status by South Korea on Wednesday, months after their arrival on the resort island of Jeju triggered a populist outcry.
Ethnically-homogenous South Korea grants refugee status to only a tiny fraction of those who apply, despite having been ravaged by war itself within living memory.
About 500 people from the conflict-plagued Middle Eastern state arrived on Jeju earlier this year, taking advantage of the visa-free access the southern island offers to encourage tourism.
Their arrivals triggered a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the South, where only around four percent of the population are foreigners, mostly from China and Southeast Asia, and discrimination against migrant workers is widespread.
Many opponents cited the Yemenis’ Muslim religion and nearly 700,000 people — a record — signed a petition on the presidential website urging tightening of what are already some of the world’s toughest refugee laws.
The Jeju visa exemption rules were rapidly changed to exclude Yemenis.
A total of 481 Yemenis formally applied for asylum. Of those, 34 were rejected outright on Wednesday, the justice ministry said, and 339 were given humanitarian stay permits, allowing them to remain in the country for a year. Those whose claims were rejected outright may appeal.
Decisions were deferred on 85 others. Last month an initial 23, mostly families with children or pregnant women, were given the stay permits, which need to be renewed every 12 months and can be refused if the security situation in Yemen is deemed to have improved.
None of the applications for refugee status have so far been successful.
Since 1994 South Korea has approved just 4.1 percent of applications, official figures show. The rules do not apply to North Koreans, who are automatically considered citizens of the South.
A recent opinion poll showed about half of South Koreans opposed accepting the Yemeni asylum-seekers, with 39 percent in favor and 12 percent undecided.


Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

Updated 24 August 2019

Egypt’s creative solutions to the plastic menace

  • Egyptian social startups are taking alternative approaches to fostering awareness and reducing waste

CAIRO: Global plastics production reached 348 million tons in 2017, rising from 335 million tons in 2016, according to Plastics Europe. 

Critically, most plastic waste is not properly managed: Around 55 percent of it was landfilled or discarded in 2015. These numbers are extremely concerning because plastic products take anything from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, and the effects on the environment, especially on marine and human life, are catastrophic.

While initiatives around the world are taking action to combat this problem, some Egyptian projects are doing it more creatively.

“We’re the first website in the Middle East and North Africa that trades waste,” said Alaa Afifi, founder and CEO of Bekia. “People can get rid of any waste at their disposal — plastic, paper and cooking oil — and exchange it for over 65 products on our website.”

Products for trading include rice, tea, pasta, cooking oil, subway tickets and school supplies.

Bekia was launched in Cairo in 2017. Initially, the business model did not prove successful.

“We used to rent a car and go to certain locations every 40 days to collect waste from people,” Afifi, 26, explained. “We then created a website and started encouraging people to use it.”

After the website was launched, people could wait at home for someone to collect the waste. “Instead of 40 days, we now could visit people within a week.”

To use Bekia’s services, people need to log onto the website and specify what they want to discard. They are assigned points based on the waste they are offering, and these points can be used in one of three ways: Donated to people in need, saved for later, or exchanged for products. As for the collected waste, it is given to specialized recycling companies for processing.

“We want to have 50,000 customers over the next two years who regularly use our service to get rid of their waste,” Afifi said.  

Trying to spread environmental awareness has not been easy. “We had a lot of trouble with initial investment at first, and we got through with an investment that was far from enough. The second problem we faced was spreading this culture among people — in the first couple of months, we received no orders,” Afifi said.

The team soldiered on and slowly built a client base, currently serving 7,000 customers. In terms of what lies ahead for Bekia, he said: “We’re expanding from 22 to 30 areas in Cairo this year. We’re launching an app very soon and a new website with better features.”

Go Clean, another Egyptian recycling startup dedicated to raising environmental awareness, works under the patronage of the Ministry of Environment. “We started in 2017 by recycling waste from factories, and then by February 2019 we started expanding,” said founder and CEO Mohammed Hamdy, 30.

The Cairo-based company collects recyclables from virtually all places, including households, schools, universities, restaurants, cafes, companies and embassies. The customers separate the items into categories and then fill out a registration form. Alternatively, they can make contact through WhatsApp or Facebook. A driver is then dispatched to collect the waste, carrying a scale to weigh it. 

“The client can be paid in cash for the weight of their recyclables, or they can make a donation to a special needs school in Cairo,” Hamdy explained. There is also the option of trading the waste for dishwashing soap, with more household products to be added in the future.

Trying to cover a country with 100 million people was never going to be easy, and Go Clean faced some logistical problems. It overcame them by hiring more drivers and getting more trucks. There was another challenge along the way: “We had to figure out a way to train the drivers, from showing them how to use GPS and deal with clients,” said Hamdy.

“We want to spread awareness about the environment everywhere. We go to schools, universities, companies and even factories to give sessions about the importance of recycling and how dangerous plastic is. We’re currently covering 20 locations across Cairo and all of Alexandria. We want to cover all of Egypt in the future,” he added.

With a new app on the way, Hamdy said things are looking positive for the social startup, and people are becoming invested in the initiative. “We started out with seven orders per day, and now we get over 100.”