Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Anti-Refugee Protests: Ordinary citizens, petitions, and K-populism

The Anti-Refugee Protests

Part 1: Xenophobia, the media, and citizens groups
Part 2: The dark side of candlelight protests
Part 3: Ordinary citizens, petitions, and K-populism

On June 21, at the blog of "Ordinary Citizen," the following message was posted:
I am just an ordinary citizen
I am just one among many ordinary citizens.
Politically I don't lean in any direction.
I am not progressive or conservative.
Leaving political views behind, I want to live while at ease in the land where I was born and I want my parents and children to live in a safe world, and with only this in mind I have established this blog.
As I am not someone belonging to any group I am frankly frightened to start this alone, but, with a sense of responsibility, I am trying to start it
I want to protect our country, our citizens, and our family.
Moving forward, I hope that many people will help and participate in rallies against accommodating refugees that may take months to resolve.
The URL of this blog,, also highlights the ordinary citizen - Korean public connection. At left is an image of Korea's national flower, the Rose of Sharon, and below it is the purpose of the blog - to promote the June 30 anti-refugee rally. The fact that is a blog and not a cafe initially suggested one person was running it, something indicated by the message posted above. While it's possible there was a larger group behind it, and that the above message was constructed so as to attract people with its 'humble member of the public' tone (one similar to the tone of the message by Angma, who suggested the first candlelight protest in 2002 (search for his name here)), the fact that others went on to promote the second anti-refugee protest at a different blog and created a Naver Cafe which is far less subtle in its message makes me think it may indeed have been run by one person (or a small group).

The URL of the Naver Cafe, called the "Citizen Action for Refugee Countermeasures" is a bit more blunt - - though it's nothing compared its banner image:

Their poster for the second rally, held July 14 in Seoul, Gwangju, Iksan, and Jeju, reads as follows:

Citizens First
Repatriate the Yemenis in Jeju
Abolish the Refugee Law
Abolish the visa-free [entry] system

The protest took place as planned July 14 in Seoul at Gwanghwamun, but according to this article only 500 turned out this time.

 (From here

(From here

Some of the signs at this protest read:
Abolish the Refugee Law citizens did not consent to – abolish visa-free [entry]
Don't be like Europe,
Denounce biased press reports - demand impartial reports,
Repatriate fake refugees,
Turn your head and look at incidents in Europe now
According to the aforementioned article, protesters repeatedly shouted lines from article 1, paragraph 2, of the constitution: "The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people." Elaborating on the 'citizens first' signs, it was said, "We want to abolish the refugee law and visa-free [entry] system that reverse discriminates against citizens."

Rep. Cho Kyung-tae of the Liberty Korea Party, who on July 12 submitted one bill to abolish the refugee law and another mandating Jeju abolish visa-free entry (other National Assembly representatives are also planning bills) spoke at the rally, saying that much larger countries than Korea, like Russia and China, don't accept many refugees. He called on Moon Jae-in to reply to the petition signed by 700,000 citizens and also promised to "take the lead in abolishing the refugee law and the visa-free entry."

The petition in question, begun on June 13, was titled "Petition to [constitutionally] amend / abolish permission to apply for refugee [status], visa-free entry, and the Refugee Law which allowed illegal refugee application problem on Jeju Island." It gained 714,875 signatures over one month, making it the most signed petition since the Blue House Petition system set was up by Moon Jae-in in August 2017. For more information on this system, this Joongang Ilbo article is useful.

Inspired by the White House petition system (set up in 2011), the Blue House petition system had seen 220,000 petitions registered in its first ten months, and "nearly 700 new ones are submitted daily." As well, "The Blue House promises to give a formal response to petitions that have received 200,000 signatures or more in one month." As the Joongang Ilbo put it,
The petition system has proven popular, but some petitions are malicious and others are just silly. After the South Korean national team’s loss to Sweden in its first World Cup match, a string of petitions emerged demanding some players be expelled from the national team for their disappointing performances.
As well, during this year's winter Olympics, after speed skaters Kim Bo-Reum and Park Ji Woo left their teammate Noh Seon-Yeong behind in a team race (a move which did not benefit them), "a petition was started on President Moon Jae-in’s website asking that Kim and Park be banned from the national team because “it is a clear national disgrace that such people with a personality problem are representing a country in the Olympics.” The petition garnered over 400,000 signatures. As well, a petition calling for the termination of the translator who did the Korean subtitles for the most recent Avengers movie was also posted.

Responding to criticism of such petitions, Ko Min-jung, a deputy Blue House spokesperson, told the Joongang Ilbo that
“While the current system is not entirely free of problems, I nevertheless think the collective wisdom of the masses is working,” she emphasized. “Taking down the petition board,” Ko continued, “would be like taking away a microphone that people now have in their hands to make their voices heard regardless of their social status or age.”
Shin Jang-sik, secretary general of the minor progressive Justice Party, on the other hand, stated that
“What worries me about the petition board is that it could be misused as an outlet for fake news, or a venting of anger or disgust against a particular group of people, rather than a platform to make rightful demands to the government.” 
As the Korea Herald reported, such venting was aimed at the Queer Festival in Seoul:
More than 200,000 Koreans signed an online petition asking the presidential office to disallow the upcoming queer parade, which is scheduled to be held in central Seoul on Saturday. The petition, which was first filed on June 14, asked the authorities to ban two queer events -- the upcoming parade in Seoul and another event that was held in Daegu on June 23. “We are not discriminating against sexual minorities,” the petition reads. “But Seoul City Square belongs to all citizens.” The petitioners called the events “distasteful,” saying some of its content, displayed publicly, is “inappropriate for children.”
While the above petition, which is here, and reached 219,987 signatures, may not be openly hateful, when I searched for it  at the Blue House petition site, (by doing a search for "퀴어축제" (Queer Festival)), I had to go past 82 other petitions, despite only a month having gone by since it was posted. Thirteen were added on July 14 and 15 alone, with titles like "Please call sexual minorities 'sexual perverts,'" "Treating AIDS is a waste of tax-payers' precious money," "Homosexuals are sexual perverts, sex addicts, and mental patients. Oppose the Queer Festival," "Oppose using taxes to treat AIDS that comes from homosexuals," "Permitting the Queer Festival is responsible for future diseases and the confusion of citizens." While the Blue House spokesperson is likely correct about "collective wisdom" in general (few people had signed the above petitions), it is still disturbing that such ideas are posted on the president's website, which can lend a veneer of legitimacy to them.

The Blue House petition system is different than the existing civil petition system that allows people to petition specific government agencies for redress or complaints (such as the Ministry of Employment and Labor). Anti-English Spectrum used civil petitions to the Ministry of Justice to point to "troubling" news reports about foreign English teachers (which they had helped create) and asked that changes be made to the system. But these were not public. AES posted information and sample petitions at its site to mobilize its members to submit petitions, but once posted on government websites they could not be seen.

The Blue House petition system is more reminiscent of the online petitions that Daum hosted, such as one calling for the expulsion of "low quality foreign instructors" in 2005 or one titled "Demand that the National Assembly impeach Lee Myung-bak" in 2008 (which accompanied the candlelight protests and garnered 1.4 million signatures). The Blue House petition system allows people to easily share the petitions via social media and essentially centralizes such petitions on the Blue House website. They are not only potentially legitimized by their association with the Blue House, they are also easy for the media to focus on, and reports by news organizations can attract more signatures to the petitions. As well, some petitions, such as one launched June 21 that was posted merely to promote the June 30 anti-refugee rally, exist only to use the Blue House website as a promotional platform. In the past, signature campaigns on Daum were aided by news reports and could result in media-driven cyber mobs descending on certain websites (like English Spectrum, or even the Olympic Website after the Ohno incident in 2002). And it should not be forgotten that one of the earliest 'internet mobs' to gain media attention worldwide was that which sought to punish the "dog poop girl" of Seoul's Line 2 subway in 2005. As I quoted Linda Lewis (who was drawing on Vincent Brandt) at the time,
the Korean cultural scenario for conflict resolution involves the public expression of grievances by both sides, as a means of informing the neighbors, of shaping local consensus, and of mustering popular support for each side of the argument.
This, however, is presented as a dialectic; both sides present their points of view and the public (or, in villages, the neighbors) listen and choose a side. A petition, however, does not involve a dialectic - it presents a demand with which people can agree or disagree. In this way it is similar, at least in some ways, to a referendum, a topic which John Ralston Saul discussed in Reflections Of A Siamese Twin: Canada At The End Of The Twentieth Century. As he put it,
In a referendum society, language and argument as the central tools of democracy are swept away. They are replaced by a goal-oriented process which reduces the citizen’s real participation to passive acquiescence or refusal; a participation which is expressed through one of two single-syllable words.[Pg 248]
He also wrote that "The point is that this political movement is in constant search of a winning vocabulary." "Not one which describes anything clearly, but what one which is least likely to frighten people."[Pg 253] As I noted above, this is where the "collective wisdom" of the public was applied in not signing openly homophobic petitions, but instead signing one which stated that “We are not discriminating against sexual minorities.” Since the petitions with more moderate language are more likely to draw "yes votes," perhaps this fairly direct engagement with the Blue House isn't such a bad thing after all.

But there is another problem with the Blue House petition system. As the Joongang Ilbo put it, this system
allows the Blue House to lead the national discussion on its domestic agenda and pull the public and media’s attention away from the National Assembly, which is supposed to do the job of listening to constituents’ demands. […] Korea’s parliament received the lowest level of trust, 15 percent, among all state institutions in a Gallup Korea poll conducted last year.
So not only are "language and argument as the central tools of democracy" replaced by the petition with the "winning formula" (moderate vocabulary that will convince people to sign and may even conceal the intentions of those posting the petition), the system also diverts attention from the National Assembly, which, in a healthy democracy, should be a key representative institution. Public distrust of these institutions is precisely what drew so many people into the streets in 2016. As Katherine Moon put it,
“I find worrisome this glorification of South Korea’s protests,” she says. “If governance structures were working properly then citizens normally would be channeling their concerns through institutional processes—reaching out to their elected leaders, going to the courts. Spilling out into the street is a sign of political dysfunction.”
On top of the glorification of protests, there has also been a glorification of the primacy of the citizen. As B.R. Myers noted, a card - one of hundreds - written to the Constitutional Court in December 2016 read: "Honorable judge. The people are above the Constitution. Please consider the hearts and minds of the people." While judges ideally should not be swayed by public feeling, it certainly happened in the case of the GI involved in the 2004 Sinchon stabbing incident:
[T]he judge told me he would give me a self defense sentence which was typically 2+ years… even though I was convicted of attempted murder. Basically the conviction was to appease the people of S. Korea, and the sentence was relative to a "self defense with a deadly weapon" conviction in that country. The judge was truly fair to both parties in that aspect.
While it was fair to the soldier, one wonders if delivering an unwarranted, pro forma verdict to please the public and then making up for it with a light sentence is good for the rule of law. Considering the way people seem to expect courts' decisions to reflect public sentiment, it is perhaps not surprising that Defense Security Command was worried about what might happen if the Constitutional Court did not uphold Park's impeachment against the will of the people. Whatever disrespect for the rule of law such potential protests might have conveyed, however, is outweighed by the DSC's plan for martial law with after-the-fact approval and plans to impede any attempts by the National Assembly to end martial law. And so we see threats - some more serious than others - to Korean democratic institutions from several sides.

In describing the primacy of the citizen, Mike Breen wrote during the 2016 candlelight protests that in Korea,
when popular emotion over an issue reaches a certain critical mass it morphs into a beast that is so powerful that it steps up and overwhelms decision-making on a grand scale. We call the beast "public sentiment," but neither this English translation nor the Korean words really convey what it is. That is because the more accurate naming - the people, the masses, the mob - implies something negative in our individualistic world and fails to convey that the beast is viewed as morally good.
Hence statements like "The people are above the Constitution" are not seen as alarming. Sohn Hak-kyu said something similar during the 2008 candlelight protests: "Public perception is no less important than rational judgement" (as Scott Burgeson described it, this statement "seems less an expression of populist solidarity with 'the people' than an unwitting critique of nationalism run amok.") During those protests, the organizers issued the following ultimatum on June 11, 2008: "If the government decides to ignore the mandate from the people, who hold the sovereign power in this country, we will not hesitate to launch a campaign to drive President Lee Myung-bak out of office." Lee, by that point, had been in power only a few months and had won the 2007 election by a margin of 5 million votes. Burgeson described the 2008 protests as an "attempted coup e'tat – and therefore both anti-constitutional and profoundly anti-democratic in nature." As noted previously, Moon Jae-in, who essentially came to power due to Park Geun-hye's impeachment, unsurprisingly lauded the 2016 candlelight protests as "an honorable civil revolution that inherited [the] spirit [of the 1919 March 1 movement]."

2018: "I am an ROK citizen. Citizens first. Citizens want safety."

As noted above, protesters at the July 14 protests repeatedly shouted lines from article 1, paragraph 2, of the constitution: "The sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people." One wonders if, in their perception, this paragraph lauding the role of citizens supersedes everything else in the constitution. It is precisely for this reason, however, that people have been upset at attempts by the Moon Jae-in government to change this paragraph as part of planned revisions to the constitution.

I took the above photo in February 2018 in front of the National Assembly. It reads: "April: Reconciliation (North South Summit), May: Peace (North US Summit), June: Revision of the Constitution (Citizen-centered Constitutional Revision). Brought to you by the Democratic Party."

As reported in February, for three weeks that month at an official website, citizens voted on 28 possible provisions that could be changed in a revised constitution. One provision that gained the most attention was the suggestion that the subject of basic rights in the constitution should be expanded from "citizens" to "people." When the article was written there were 10,494 votes in favor and 9,531 votes against. The pertinent section of the president’s suggested revision reads:
Considering the level of human rights that the international community expects from us and the shape of our society in the era of 2 million foreigners, we need to expand the [definition of who is] subject to fundamental rights. Characterized by respect for innate human rights such as human dignity, the right to pursue happiness, the right to equality, the right to life, freedom of body, freedom of privacy, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, fundamental rights of information, and freedom of study and art, the subject of these fundamental rights is expanded from "citizen" to "people."
This proposed expansion of guarantees to non-citizens was opposed by some. A representative of an online café called "Citizens who love South Korea" described his opposition to this proposed change, saying that giving equal rights to foreigners, such as right to equality, means that they could sue the state for discriminatory treatment, while freedom of religion could provide a means for Islamic radicalism and fundamentalists like IS to enter Korea. Giving them equal rights would remove "the minimum safeguards to protect our nation from external radicalism" and would also lead to another result: "The Republic of Korea will be swarmed with foreigners from poor countries all over the world" As the representative further put it,
The current constitution alone already fully guarantees the rights of foreigners. A serious issue in our country is the problem of discrimination against our own people. Above all, due to the irresponsible inflow of foreign workers and illegal aliens, Korean workers are excluded from the labor market, which leads to serious deprivation of their right to live. Now is not the time to "ladle out rights" to foreigners to whom we have no obligations, but rather it is time to protect the rights of our own citizens. If there is a problem in exercising the basic rights of foreigners, it is a matter to be adjusted and fixed within the boundaries of individual bills.
It's worth noting that Constitutional Court Judge Kim Jong Dae disagreed with the first sentence above. In response to the Vandom case regarding HIV testing of foreign teachers at the Constitutional Court, Judge Kim stated that "[Under] our Constitution only 'citizens' [gungmin] are entitled to fundamental rights while the legal status of foreigners falls within the range of international law and international treaties."

As for the "problem of discrimination against our own people," this was, as noted above, referred to months later at the most recent anti-refugee rally, where protesters said, "We want to abolish the refugee law and visa-free [entry] system that reverse discriminates against citizens." This belief in reverse discrimination is reflected in the opposition to "fake" refugees whose "real reason" for coming to Korea is just to find work, and therefore to steal jobs from Koreans. This kind of rhetoric also appeared when Jasmine Lee, the Philippine-born naturalized Korean citizen who became a Saenuri Party lawmaker in 2012, was targeted in racially-based online attacks. Among the netizens' comments were "We’ll see the truth of multiculturalism that exploits Koreans" or "Korea is a paradise for foreigners. Korea gives foreigners benefits which it doesn’t even give to its nationals. Come to Korea, you can become lawmakers." 

This was quite similar to the netizen comments and parody posters made in 2005 about English teachers, along the lines of 'Come to Korea, you'll be treated like a king.' Mind you, in regard to "unqualified foreign instructors," this attitude goes back much further, to the first use of that term in 1973, in fact. "Courteous Korea has the politeness to entertain guests," wrote the author of a letter to the Kyonghyang Shinmun, "but I worry that we are displaying a very submissive attitude towards foreigners"; the author also criticized "giving unconditional hospitality to foreigners." A Korean journalist's response in 1984 to a Le Monde article about young French men making money in Seoul by teaching English and French offered his opinion that "It’s possible this treatment of foreigners is unreasonably kind," while another journalist a few days later opined in regard to this that the most important thing was for Koreans to "stand up and have some self respect." These attitudes, while similar to those of today, were motivated more by a quest for national self-respect and disdain for submissiveness or sadaejuui. 

While relating this 'economic threat' / 'we should not be so kind to foreigners' rhetoric with the protesters' desire to tighten regulations to restrict Korea's already very low acceptance of refugee petitions has been framed in terms of xenophobia, something else to consider are Korean attitudes toward various marginalized groups historically. Korean survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - and their children born since - had to hide this history in order to marry, while those with visible scarring were mistaken for Hansen's Disease patients. Discrimination against those with Hansen's Disease was even turned against children of patients who tested negative for the disease, as seen when parents pulled all of their children out of a school in Seoul for weeks in 1969 due to the presence of five such children. In that case public sentiment overwhelmed the children's fundamental rights, as the government eventually gave in and removed the students to a separate school.

People with HIV/AIDS have been treated abysmally, even by the hospitals tasked with treating them (many others refuse to treat them), and almost half of respondents to one survey said they would not care for a family member with HIV.

NIMBYism in Korea has been expressed by residents near an empty school in Seoul opposing a plan to convert it into a school for the handicapped, with one resident calling a parent of a handicapped student "fake" (the government has since committed to building more such schools). As well, residents in various Seoul districts have protested the construction of public housing for low-income families and youths because it would lead to "housing price drops" and "slumification of the neighborhood." And when the government built a new housing facility for refugees and asylum seekers at a remote location on Yeongjeong Island, near Incheon International Airport, local residents complained and "worried about the possibility of deteriorating security and devaluation of their assets" despite their residences being "quite far from the facility."

Some of the above cases involve involve marginalization of certain groups of Koreans perceived as being "contaminated." A desire to protect bloodlines from these groups is perhaps not so far removed from fears of nationalists obsessed with "pure blood," though in the case of the anti-refugee movement, blood nationalism is likely overshadowed by a defensive form of nationalism that fears victimization at the hands of outsiders and cultural contamination. It should be noted that the latter two fears were encouraged during Park Chung-hee's rule and then taken up by opponents of Park and his successor, Chun Doo-hwan, and their civic group descendants (such as during the 2008 candlelight protests).

Other cases mentioned above involve protests against inclusive treatment for marginalized groups in the name of preserving existing privilege, generally economic privilege. This is not unrelated to the sentiment expressed in the Korean saying "If one cousin buys land, the other cousin gets a stomachache," a sentiment informed by a constant awareness of one's place within various hierarchies. This is added to by the precariousness of life in Korea, be it under a royal dynasty where corruption was rampant, under colonial rule and war, during the developmental period, or amid the rise of "precarious labor" in the post-IMF period, a precariousness that is summed up by the term "Hell Joseon." Equality of citizens in this context seems to mean something akin to "no one may receive better treatment than me" and perhaps informs the criticism by the anti-refugee protesters of "the refugee law and visa-free [entry] system that reverse discriminates against citizens."

Considering this background, and amid rhetoric like "Hell Joseon" and "reverse discrimination," it isn't surprising that there would be criticism of a system that has seen a large increase in the number of (unvetted) refugee applicants, who are given benefits by the government during the application process. Some of those opposed to the system, like the blogger I quoted at the beginning of this post, who was "just one among many ordinary citizens," have approached the issue in a relatively level-headed manner. That blogger openly disassociated himself from the far right and Christian hate groups. This is a far cry from the extremist language (like 'rapefugees') of the Naver cafe, with images like this predicting gang rapes of Korean women. Perhaps this kind of rhetoric resulted in there being a smaller turnout for the second protest; perhaps there were other reasons.

What is interesting about this movement is that if this was a movement on the left, the existing progressive networks would move in and take over the protests, moving them a predictable direction. Because there is no unifying movement on the right similar to that on the left (due to 'civic groups' being a domain of partisan left-wing groups, and because nationalist historical narratives reward the left more than the right), it is hard to know where this movement might go. While 'hunker down in the minjok bunker'-style nationalism based on fear of exploitation by outsiders of the sort usually applied to Westerners (US soldiers, beef exporters, English teachers) could possibly be adapted to the "protect citizens from outsiders" rhetoric elements of the anti-refugee movement have adopted, and could also be marshaled to urge the defense of Korean sovereignty from "the level of human rights that the international community expects from us," it is not yet clear that the bulk of the Korean public would support this.

An important question that deserves the attention of pollsters is to what degree Koreans support adopting Western norms related to human rights and refugees. To be sure, a vocal group of citizens, including those seen protesting with signs reading "Abolish the Refugee Law citizens did not consent to" and  "Denounce biased press reports" while shouting "all state authority shall emanate from the people," clearly disagree with the direction the government has moved in and argue they must be listened to. The petition could have been a starting point for a conversation in Korea about the Refugee Act, the quickly-growing number of applicants, and the direction people would like to see their country move in. Unfortunately, the platform given to the anti-refugee movement by the Blue House petition system and the attention gained by gathering a small crowd of people for a protest seem to have pushed a number of National Assembly representatives into action as they grasp for relevance. The "winning formula" of the petition that gathered so many signatures has instead become a starting point for immediate action by politicians jumping on the bandwagon to curry favor with citizens who distrust their democratic institutions. If the people are indeed "above the constitution," or, as Mike Breen put it, they believe "the people themselves rule," and the government believes its role is simply to react to the latest burst of outrage to emanate from the people, then does the distrust of the government and the loathing expressed in the term "Hell Joseon" not constitute a form of self-loathing? If that's the case, no amount of legal revision is going to solve that problem, especially when the current Blue House is actively encouraging this form of populism.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

The Anti-Refugee Protests: The dark side of candlelight protests

The Anti-Refugee Protests

Part 1: Xenophobia, the media, and citizens groups
Part 2: The dark side of candlelight protests
Part 3: Ordinary citizens, petitions, and K-populism

Part 2: The dark side of candlelight protests

Upon looking at photos of the June 30 anti-refugee protests, I was struck by the sight of the protesters holding candles. (Few candles can be seen in photos of the July 14 protest, but there was more daylight in those photos so that's not surprising).

(From here.) 

 But it was not just the anti-refugee protesters holding candles - the pro-refugee demonstrators (below, left) also held them aloft.

(From here.)

The reason for this, I think, derives from two different conceptions of what candlelight protests stand for. One understanding of them is that they are concerned with remembering victims and/or seeking justice. The first candlelight protests, in 2002, were to remember the deaths of two girls killed in an accident involving a US military vehicle.

 In November 2003 a small candlelight vigil was held in Daehangno as a protest against the suneung (CSAT) in Daehangno after a girl in Namwon killed herself on November 5, 2003.

In December 2004, 150 people held a candlelight vigil to protest the police's failure to punish the scores of high school boys who repeatedly gang-raped two girls from Miryang.

"Cheaters are arrested, those who injure younger students, also arrested... Rape is dismissed with a caution???" (From here, where more photos can be found.)

In May 2005 a "Remembrance Event for Students Sacrificed for School Education" was held at Gwanghwamun, which criticized the education system and the pressures that cause students to kill themselves.

(From here.)

It is also popularly remembered that high school girls started the protests against American beef imports in 2008, fearing their lives would be cut short by mad cow disease. And the candlelight protests of late 2016 were described recently by Moon Jae-in as "an honorable civil revolution that inherited [the] spirit [of the 1919 March 1 movement]." With this justice-oriented pedigree involving support for the powerless, it's not surprising those demonstrating in support of refugees would be holding candles.

But there is another, less savory side to the candlelight protests that should not be forgotten, one that reaches back to the first such protests in 2002.

(From here.)

(A quick digression: If not for this Daum cafe post, down the memory hole would have gone the fact that the first candlelight vigil for the girls was held by American soldiers on June 18, 2002 - five days after the fatal accident, when the entire country was gearing up for the Korea-Italy World Cup soccer match that evening.)

What is remembered as the "first" candlelight protest related to the girls was suggested by a netizen named Angma. After watching an episode of MBC's current affairs program PD Diary about the acquittal of soldiers involved in the accident, he was so moved that he left messages on the internet urging people to "commemorate the lives of Mi-seon and Hyo-soon, who were forgotten in the joy of June" by gathering with candles near the US Embassy. These messages gained a great deal of exposure when they were covered by an Ohmynews reporter named Kim Ki-boh - who turned out to be Angma. The candlelight vigil, claiming to be a "cultural event" rather than a political protest (and thus not subject to registration with the police), became a new form of protest that moved beyond the clashes with riot police of previous protests, and so became more likely to draw in a wider variety of participants. Things soon turned ugly, however, as this photo of a December 14, 2002 candlelight protest in front of city hall shows.

At this protest they sang the song "Fucking USA" and "tore several huge U.S. flags to bits before unfurling a Korean flag to shouts of 'We will recover our national pride.'" In the meantime, a nearby restaurant posted this sign:

Worth keeping in mind is the fact that two weeks after the accident that June, North Korean naval vessels attacked a South Korean patrol boat, killing six South Koreans. Little concern was shown about their deaths at the hands of North Koreans, in stark comparison to the reaction to the traffic accident involving US soldiers, which spread widely throughout South Korean society at the time. As well, far from being merely "cultural" in nature, when a coalition of civic groups took over the candlelight protests "The Pan National Committee said it would continue its protests until Dec. 18, the day before the presidential election." Roh Moo-hyun, the progressive candidate these groups favored, was elected the next day.

In March 2004, when Roh was impeached for violating the election law regarding the upcoming National Assembly election, candlelight vigils were again held by citizens opposed to his impeachment, which was ultimately overturned by the constitutional court. Though the protests that time were free of the xenophobia that attended the 2002 protests, media coverage of the impeachment was not entirely free of racist attitudes, as this cartoon, published by the Hankyoreh reveals:

(White or Chinese bloggers stated that it was a right wing coup d'état, impeachment with no reason, that only the citizens would be hurt, and called conservatives 'idiots' while an African savage looked on in confusion.)

As for the 2008 candlelight protests, they were not started by high school students at all, as a poster for the first candlelight protest on May 2 of that year reveals. As I looked at here, the first protest was organized by the Solidarity Struggle for the Impeachment of Lee Myung-bak, based at (which is still active). The group, formed on the day Lee was elected, had been trying to find anything that might anger the public and turn it against Lee. A poster for a protest (which drew only around 200 people) on April 26, a week before the first candlelight protest, shows the different items they were throwing at the wall to see what might stick:

The terms in red above include "disgraceful diplomacy" (for bowing to the Japanese emperor, as pictured), "obliterating the national soul," and "mad cow" (the announcement that US beef would be imported came on April 18). The rally's program was elsewhere described as "Reject the second colony." Though the April 26 rally drew only a small number of people, and farmers' rallies against US beef imports were only lightly attended, the issue exploded when PD Diary broadcast a show which shocked viewers and sowed fear of mad cow disease-tainted US beef. It soon became clear the program had mistranslated and mislabeled certain footage in order to achieve this effect. It also presented research in a misleading way to suggest Koreans were genetically more susceptible to mad cow disease, playing on a victim consciousness (of the "we've been invaded so many times" sort that Park Chung-hee encouraged during his Yushin dictatorship to inculcate support for a strong army) that finds expression in historical narratives and films.

Symbols and memes played an important role in the 2008 protests, and some of the images highlighted the threat posed by American beef, or the US in general. The day before PD Diary aired, restarted its website and dusted off a catchy image it had used at anti-US beef protests a year or two earlier (also examined here):

Similar images proliferated on the internet, such as this image of a malevolent American cow threatening the lives of Korean children:

Evil American bull: "Eat lots." (From here)
(I'm pretty certain the US stopped bombing Korean children in the 1950s.)

My favorite was likely this one of Uncle Sam cramming American beef down a boy's throat:

(Edited from an image here)

The candlelight protests that the group aiming to impeach Lee Myung-bak organized grew in size and continued for three months. For a critical take on them, Scott Burgeson's essay "Stranger in Chongno" is worth reading; he attended almost every rally during that period. He described the protests as an attempted coup e'tat and an "assault on Korean democracy by the forces of ideological totalitarianism and reactionary nationalism." Though the target of these protests was the Lee Myung-bak government, fear of outsiders - the US, once again - who would do harm to Koreans was used to rally the public to the side of those organizing the rallies.

It should be clear enough from these examples that, from the beginning, candlelight protests have promoted, at best, a "we must protect the nation" brand of nationalism, and at worst, outright xenophobia of the sort that perceived outsiders - particularly Americans in 2002 and 2008 - as wanting to harm Koreans. And so it should be no surprise that those taking part in an anti-refugee protest would be holding candles, since the partisan, political candlelight protests of 2002 and 2008 promoted sentiments that were rather similar to those of anti-refugee protests.

Signs at May 2008 anti-beef protests read "Protect citizens' sovereignty," "Stop importation." (From here.)

2018: "I am an ROK citizen. Citizens first. Citizens want safety."

In many ways, candlelight protests, at least when the cameras are rolling (as they were not during the after-hours violence in 2008 that left hundreds injured), are an improvement over the violent confrontations of the past. But considering the way they have been used to express nationalism and fear of outsiders such as US soldiers or American beef exporters in the past, we should not be surprised that citizens who believe they are defending the nation from outsiders who would do them harm (or who would use resources that should be set aside for citizens alone) would feel comfortable adopting this form of protest in the same symbolic space (Gwanghwamun, in this case) as previous candlelight protests.

But the message on the signs above - "I am an ROK citizen. Citizens first. Citizens want safety" - points to a larger question surrounding the anti-refugee protests and past candlelight rallies - the role of the citizen in relation to the state. This question, revolving in part around possible changes to the constitution, will be the focus of the next post.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Anti-Refugee Protests: Xenophobia, the media, and citizens groups

The Anti-Refugee Protests

Part 1: Xenophobia, the media, and citizens groups
Part 2: The dark side of candlelight protests
Part 3: Ordinary citizens, petitions, and K-populism

Part 1: Xenophobia, the media, and citizens groups

This post started when I saw images of people at the June 30 anti-refugee rally holding candles, but, as is par for the course when I start doing research, it quickly expanded into something larger, so it will appear in three parts. In the first I apply to the anti-refugee movement the lessons learned from researching the Citizens Movement for the Expulsion of Illegal Foreign Language Instructors (or Anti-English Spectrum). In the second and third parts I'll explore the role of populism in the form of petitions to the president and candlelight protests.

On June 30, a protest was held at Gwanghwamun in Seoul to call for the abolition of the Refugee Act and no-visa entry in response to the arrival in Jeju of over 500 Yemenis seeking refugee status. This issue has been developing for a few months now, but came to public attention over the last month or so. The Yemeni refugees in Jeju were able to apply for refugee status there due to its visa-free arrival policy for tourists and the recent opening of direct flights there from Malaysia, where many Yemenis have fled to. For more background, the best article is "Yemeni Refugees Languish on South Korea’s Holiday Island" by Darryl Coote, who has been in direct contact with the refugees in Jeju.

I wrote about Korea's stinginess in accepting refugees back in 2005, and though things have improved since then, it was a pretty low bar to begin with. As the Korea Times put it, "Korea is known as one of the most rigid countries when it comes to granting legal refugee status to foreigners. Among 32,733 applicants between 1994 and 2017, only 792 were successful." One prominent change since I wrote about this topic in 2005 was the passage of the Refugee Act, which was passed in 2012 and enacted in 2013. A detailed examination of the act can be found here. Statistics seem to vary but by the end of 2012 between 4,000 and 5,000 people had applied for refugee status. Since the passage of the Act, according to the graphic and statistics here, under 2,000 applied in 2013, over 3,000 in 2014, over 5,500 in 2015, and 7,495 in 2016. As this Korea Times article notes, of 9,942 applicants in 2017, only 121 applicants gained refugee status, or "1.21 percent, lower than 1.29 percent in 2016 and 1.83 percent in 2015." So, while the number of applicants has quickly grown, the percentage of those being accepted has dropped. However, as the Times article puts it,
There are group of people called "humanitarian status holders," who are in between those who got the refugee status and those who are forced to return home. According to the data obtained by Rep. Hong, the number of humanitarian status holders tends to grow ― 318 in 2017, 246 in 2016, 194 in 2015, 539 in 2014, six in 2013. For the last 10 years, 1,425 people have gained the status.
Syrian refugees are generally given this status as fleeing war has not been seen as a reason to award refugee status. As well, "[a]ctivists believe the government tries not to endorse them as refugees, since the status involves living expenses and health insurance. They can also invite their families to Korea, which can snowball the number of refugees." Over the last few years, the civil war in Yemen has led to a spike in the number of Yemeni refugee applicants. As the Korea Herald put it, "Of the 40 Yemeni nationals that have sought asylum in Korea from 2016 to 2017, 14 have been granted refugee status and given protection under the refugee law. Eighteen were granted 'humanitarian stay permits.'"

Those who criticize the Refugee Act do so for various reasons, including for allowing what appears to them as overly favorable treatment of foreigners and for making it easier for refugees to apply for asylum, leading to a large increase in their number since the law was passed. Despite the fact that very few refugees are accepted, the arrival of the Yemeni refugees on Jeju has caused fear of these refugees to overtake a vocal group of Koreans. This has taken the form of "gendered Islamophobia" influenced by conservative Christian churches (though not all churches agree with this), which decries rewarding "fake refugees," and has led to a Blue House citizens’ petition calling for the revocation of refugee application permits for the refugees. The petition, begun on June 13, gained 714,875 signatures over one month. Some who criticize accepting refugees oppose allowing them to stay and work in the country and giving them aid (like access to medical treatment or education) while they await a decision on their petition.

The culmination of this was the first protest on June 30, which was attended by 1,000 people. There's a good article on how this relates to Korean xenophobia by Se-Woong Koo at Korea Expose. In it, he cites several examples of discriminatory treatment of non Koreans, including the 2009 case of Bonojit Hussain, a foreign professor who had racist insults hurled at him by a Korean man for being with a Korean woman, who was also attacked. Though he asserted at the time that "It wouldn't have happened to me if I were a white man,'' insulting Korean women for being with Western men has a long pedigree, as incidents from the 1940s1980s, or 1990s reveal. One such incident in 1992 left the offending foreigner, a GI, dead. A similar fate befell an English teacher who was stabbed to death - in the high school he worked at - in 1998 by a man who "didn't want Americans here teaching Korean children" and who thought "foreigners should not be allowed to hold jobs here while many Koreans are unemployed."

That these kinds of incidents involving GIs and foreign English teachers were not included among the examples of racial discrimination in the Korea Expose article is not all that surprising. As a group, they have been perceived to be white American males who are more privileged than other foreigners (though women now make up 55% of E-2 visa holders), and, beyond incidents generated by bitterness at interracial coupling, negative feeling toward them is often closely related to what could be termed a post-colonial reaction to American hegemony in its manifestations as a military presence in Korea on the one hand and the need for mastery of English to advance in Korean society on the other. Thus these groups have been considered undeserving of much sympathy or attention when examining discrimination in Korea, which is one of the reasons why negative news reports about GIs and English teachers continued unchecked for years (in the 1990s and early 2000s for GIs, and for a decade after the 2005 English Spectrum Incident for English teachers).

These tendencies in regard to English teachers manifested themselves in instances like JTBC describing consensual sex between white men and Korean women as "sex crimes" or NoCut News, the online news site of the Christian Broadcasting System, publishing a 9-part series titled "The Reality and Twisted Values of Some White Men." Such reporting was also exported to the US when Joohee Cho, whose mission was to "correct biased views on Korea by the foreign press...and make it my duty to accurately and objectively report issues and affairs in Korea," wrote the following article for ABC News:

(It has since been removed.)

That they reported on foreign teachers' drug or sex crimes was no surprise, but there are various cases that illustrate and confirm a bias against them in the media. It could be noted, for example, that the murder of the foreign teacher in his school in 1998 was not reported by the Korean media. A clearer example of bias is to be found by comparing media coverage of an American English teacher who was extradited for an alleged sex crime against a child back home at the same time a Korean elementary school principal was sentenced to prison for molesting 9 students. The American's case was reported five times more than the Korean principal's, and half of the 70 reports on the foreign teacher appeared on television news - compared to none for the Korean principal. Likewise, images like this Munhwa Ilbo cartoon, of the aforementioned extradited teacher, were certainly not used to illustrate the Korean principal:

'Their true, foul, beastly nature'

Above is a US soldier menacing a South Korean woman in a 1990 North Korean comic book titled "Sick and Rotten World." Like night and day, aren't they? Should the Koreas ever reunify, north and south should at least be able to bond over the shared xenophobic tendencies of their media.

What was always interesting was how these negative media depictions of English teachers were so little related to their actual, often preferential treatment by Koreans. To be clear, this negative perception of foreign teachers never crystallized offline in the form of a demonstration, but remained limited to the internet, media, and government policies. I have long felt (and said so here) that if the Korean media absolutely must engage in such fear-mongering and xenophobia, targeting relatively privileged (and often transient) foreign teachers and US soldiers is a better option than targeting less-privileged, far more poorly-treated migrant workers. One problem with highlighting certain groups' criminality is that the lack of coverage of other groups' crimes (one such touchstone was the murder in 2008 of 13 year-old Gang Su-hyeon by a Filipino staying in the country illegally) can lead to perceptions of media bias. Far more important, however, is that allowing biased treatment in the media of one unsympathetic group to continue unchecked inevitably allows the practice to become accepted and permits its spread to other groups.

At the height of negative news reports about foreign English teachers in 2009 and 2010, there were over 300 negative articles published each year. In comparison, there have been only 10 negative articles in the first half of this year, and that includes articles about a foreign elementary school teacher fired for indecent assault. Though Yonhap published a story about that case (which often serves as a template for stories by other news outlets), I could find only five reports about it. This means that, when it comes to media treatment of foreign English teachers, things have obviously changed. While it is possible the media has stopped trafficking in such xenophobia, the more likely explanation is that attention has been turned to other targets.

Part and parcel of the height of media negativity against foreign teachers were the actions of Anti-English Spectrum, also known as 'The Citizen's Movement to Expel Illegal Foreign Language Teachers' or 'Citizens for Upright English Education,' who were spurred to action by rude comments of a sexual nature made about Korean women online by foreign teachers and photos of a sexy costume party featuring foreign teachers and Korean women. Their target was generally "unqualified" foreign teachers, about whom they elicited tips from members, fed these to the media, and then used the resulting reports as evidence of a problem in petitions to the government demanding that it be solved with new regulations. It was they who created the AIDS - foreign teacher link in the media and who, after being invited to an Immigration policy meeting, convinced the government to institute HIV tests for foreign teachers.

By the time Lee Eun-ung, the leader of Anti-English Spectrum, stopped posting at the group's Naver cafe in 2012, his work seemed to be almost complete. The visa-rules he had pushed were in place, the constitutional court had rejected a case related to HIV testing of teachers, and the HIV testing, though officially dropped for all other visas, continued for English teachers. As well, the public school cuts he had called for had begun in Gyeonggi-do, and from there spread to other cities and provinces. When the group ceased to exist after he left, it became clear he had accomplished all of this almost entirely on his own. The fact that he was able to almost single-handedly influence government policy should be disturbing, but luckily, the fact that no one took media or government actions against foreign English teachers seriously means Lee is relatively unknown; others are not likely to learn from his canny manipulation of the media (almost every major paper quoted him) and behind-the-scenes maneuvering among politicians and Ministry of Justice officials. The case of Anti-English Spectrum and the years of negative coverage of English teachers in the media provide lenses through which to view the recent anti-refugee websites and protests.

Something worth examining is the rise and fall in the number of negative media reports about foreign teachers. Though this graph only goes up to 2014 (remember that I could only find ten such articles in the first half of this year - a massive drop), a general rise and the beginning of a fall can be seen.

You'll notice that this generally corresponds to the rise and fall in the number of E-2 visa holders. The growth between 2006 and 2011 was mostly due to an abrupt increase in the number of public school teachers, which can be seen below. The two highest years, 2009 and 2010, were also the years with the most negative news articles.

A similar pattern can be seen in the recent, steep rise in the number of refugee applications:

Since the applications take time, it is likely that the most recent two years or so worth of applicants are in the country, making for a population of perhaps 15,000 (though I stress this is just a guess). There are currently 25,000 people here on the G-1 visa, which is for people given permission to stay by the Minister of Justice, but it encompasses many categories of people other than refugee applicants (such as foreigners injured in industrial accidents or caught in the sex trade). The main point to take away from this comparison is that, just as an increase in the number of foreign teachers in the late 2000s was matched by negative feeling expressed toward them in the media, the rapidly increasing influx of refugees since the enactment of the Refugee Act five years ago has also seen a rising level of concern aimed at them (though for different reasons).

Returning to Anti-English Spectrum, it was clear from their rhetoric and the statements of its leader that this group did not really want any foreign teachers in Korea, but their use of the term "unqualified" - which was always vaguely defined - allowed them to feign that they were only concerned about an unsavory subset of the targeted group, and not the group in its entirety. This is clearly to be seen in the rhetoric of the anti-refugee group on June 30.

Rally to demand the abolition of the Refugee Act and no-visa [entry]

Fake refugees Get Out

Abolition of the Refugee Act – Abolition of no-visa [entry]
Denounce one-sided press reports – Demand impartial reports
Shorten international treaty refugee screening time
Put the safety and protection of fellow citizens first
Protect real refugees – Expel fake refugees

Citizens in solidarity for measures against illegal refugee applicant foreigners
While the name of the group organizing the rally features the term "illegal," the key term to pay attention to is "fake." Like "unqualified," it will likely not be clearly defined. The suggestion here is that they are not opposed to all refugees, just the "fake" ones, as the phrases at the bottom - "Protect real refugees – Expel fake refugees" - suggest, but the call for "Abolition of the Refugee Act" strongly suggests this has only been included to soften the group's image. One source of this term, however, may be the government:
The ministry and civic activists [supporting refugees] have fundamental different approaches to the refugee issue. As seen in ministry officials' media interviews and their presentations in conferences, they use the term "real refugee," implying many refugee applicants flocking to South Korea are "fake refugees."
While the petition was first posted on June 14, it was on June 21 that a blog was founded with the aim of promoting the June 30 protest (I'll look at it in more detail later). That it was a blog rather than a cafe (an online forum that allows posts by multiple users) suggests this started small, and has not had much time to grow. I noticed some parallels between it and Anti-English Spectrum's Naver cafe when it started.

Days before the protest, the blogger predicted that others would try to portray them as being full of religious hate and warned that "We will not allow the press to disparage the pure intentions of the participants who took part for the safety of the people and the peace of the country." The day after the rally, the blogger stated, in a post titled "Rally to demand the abolition of Refugee Act and visa-free entry - We are not a right wing group!", that the group is not related to far right-wingers like Ju Ok-sun or groups like Ilbe, not connected to Christian groups, and have never received support from any organization. Donations towards the banners and the stage for their June 30 rally were provided by "ordinary citizens" (a list of the donations is provided here). This is reminiscent of the founder of Anti-English Spectrum (AES) writing a post to members of the site a week or so after its founding by people with "good intentions" about how he felt "regretful about the way the broadcasts have come out" which "wounded" the hearts of the group's "wholesome members" and promised to promote "proper awareness of this cafe." The report in question - a KBS news story - incensed AES members because it portrayed the group as problematic due to the way its members harassed Korean women who appeared in photos with foreign teachers. Not for nothing did the most recent anti-refugee rally hoist signs reading "Denounce biased press reports - demand impartial reports."

In October 2007, more than two-and-a-half years after AES was founded, its leader, Lee Eun-ung,  was invited to take part in an Immigration policy meeting where it was decided to implement the drug and HIV tests the group had been requesting for over a year. Over the next three years almost every media outlet interviewed Lee, and bills were introduced by National Assembly representatives Lee had visited that reflected his requests. This experience makes clearer the time needed by emerging interest groups to make connections in the media and government, and this is reflected in the fact that those invited to recent debates about the refugee issue held on the premises of the National Assembly were more established groups focused on the "problem" of foreigners in general, rather than just refugees.

As Christian Today reported, on July 11 the "People's Debate for the Revision of the Refugee Act," attended by 500 people, was held in the Assembly Hall of the National Assembly Representative’s Office, hosted by National Assembly Rep. Kim Jin-tae, and overseen by the Love for Our Culture Citizen Solidarity and the Freedom and Human Rights Research Institute. A live stream can be watched here. Love for Our Culture Citizen Solidarity [우리문화사랑국민연대] is an anti-multiculturalism group whose Daum cafe features a banner photo of refugees in a boat, a section for posts titled "foreign criminals/illegal sojourners," and a slideshow of photos including the aforementioned murdered middle school student, Gang Su-hyeon, and photos of riots in Europe. The Freedom and Human Rights Research Institute [자유와인권연구소] is a Christian group which criticized Park Won-sun for allowing the Pride Festival to take place in Seoul Plaza and whose seminar on hate speech at Sejong Cultural Center last year was summarized by the Kookmin Ilbo as follows: "As it is an important public topic about about the future of the country, it's not hate, it's criticism."

(From here.)

At the debate Rep. Kim Jin-tae referred to the refugee crisis in Europe and criticized human rights groups and media there that distorted opposition to careless acceptance of refugees and framed it as discrimination, and promised to work for the settlement of the correct refugee policy. Reps. Shim Jae-cheol and Yu Gi-jun also sought to examine the problems of current refugee policy and to provide desirable refugee policy directions and realistic alternatives. Kim Seung-kyu, a former minister of justice, said that since refugee applicants are given work permits like recognized refugees, they abuse the laxity of the Refugee Act which "can cause a serious crisis in the public order and security of the nation." It's nice to see that former members of the government can be counted on to ease fears and reduce tensions.

Ryu Byeong-gyun of Love for Our Culture Citizen Solidarity criticized the Refugee Act as "the worst law that attracts fake refugees on a large scale who want to use the Refugee Act as an expedient to enter and stay in the country." He stated that over 30,000 people applying for refugee status have extended their stays by filing administrative suits when rejected or have stayed on illegally and suggested that the government could use the Immigration Act to expel the Yemeni refugees from Jeju.

Ryu also thought that rather than withdraw from international refugee conventions, Korea should help deal with the problems in countries where refugees originate by sending peacekeepers to these countries or letting private companies and organizations go and help refugees achieve economic and social stability and self-sufficiency. He also thought the Refugee Act should be changed to only allow refugee applications from Korean embassies abroad and that the definition of 'refugee' should be widened to allow stateless Koreans abroad to be accepted as refugees.

Lawyer Go Yeong-il, of the Freedom and Human Rights Research Institute, criticized the "poisonous clauses" of the Refugee Act and suggested numerous revisions. He advised that refugees hoping to resettle or refugees' spouses or minor children who are not in the Refugee Convention should not be allowed to enter Korea, that the clauses allowing humanitarian sojourners not in the Refugee Convention to work be deleted, and that the regulations guaranteeing living expenses, housing facilities, medical treatment and education for refugee applicants be deleted. You have to admire the creativity of Christians like these. Why read a heavy book like the Bible when you could use it as a bludgeon?

The day after this debate, another one took place in the same building, as the poster here advertises. The "Debate on improvements to problems with the refugee system" took place at 4 pm on July 12 at the National Assembly Representatives' Office Building Seminar Room 1. It was hosted by Rep. Lee Eon-ju and the National Assembly Representative research group 'Harmonius Society.' The debaters included Kim Heun-su, Seoul Nambu Administrator (connected with Immigration Office); Lee Man-seok, a representative of 4HIM (not a fan of Muslims); Ryu Byeong-gyun of Love for Our Culture Citizens Solidarity (again); and Gu Byeong-mo, Ministry of Justice Deputy Director for Refugees.

(From here.)

Two things are worth noting: One is the inclusion in these debates of a number of groups which are clearly not fond of foreigners living in Korea. The other is that, with appearances at two debates held on the premises of the National Assembly two days in a row, the anti-multiculturalism group Love for Our Culture Citizens Solidarity seems to have made some high-profile political connections and may be seen as a "go to" group when dealing with these issues (though I'm not familiar enough with them to say for sure). These were the kind of connections that Anti-English Spectrum made with politicians who later sponsored bills the group favored, and that got them invited to the Immigration policy meeting which decided the drug and HIV tests for E-2 visa holders.

One of the key articles Anti-English Spectrum contributed to which promoted their message of foreign teachers as AIDS threat was this Chosun Ilbo article (titled "White English instructor threatens Korean woman with AIDS" in its Korean version). Another article they contributed to was this one by KBS, titled "Out of Control Foreign English Teacher' Molests [someone] While High During Lesson," which conflates two different events to invent, in the title, an incident that never occurred. A post at this site provided a link to a Chosun Ilbo article from last week that does the same thing for Yemeni refugees. The headline and sub-headlines read:
Korea is not free from Khat, the hallucinogen that ruined YemenYemeni refugee applicant who took drug committed molestation in a club
Court commuted [sentence because it's] "legal in Yemen"
90% of Yemeni men enjoy 'khat'
The article explains how a Yemeni who came to Korea in 2014 and claimed he couldn't return because he had fought against Al Queda but was judged not to be in such danger and was eventually ordered to leave Korea after a grace period. During that period he was arrested for touching women in a club, and then arrested months later for staying in Korea past the grace period and possession of khat, a plant chewed for its psychoactive properties in Yemen. His prison sentence was reduced somewhat since the court later accepted that it was legal in Yemen and that he had not taken something he knew to be illegal. The article then talks about the use of khat in Yemen and how Korea is no longer a "khat-free zone." Between the sub-headlines that suggest he was high when he touched the women and digging up a year-old case at this time, the Chosun Ilbo's stance on the refugee issue seems clear enough.

The petition and the June 30 protest seem to have gotten results. Politicians are falling over each other to submit bills to the national assembly or, as seen above, to host debates on the topic. And in a "let's get this out of the public eye as quickly as possible"-type solution, it has been announced that "Yemini asylum seekers who have arrived on Jeju Island this year will start receiving the results of their refugee status applications in two weeks’ time."

While the experience of a decade of media bias against foreign English teachers and the actions of Anti-English Spectrum can be compared usefully to some aspects of the anti-refugee movement, not all of it applies. The media manipulation of AES, and its use of those reports to influence the government, seem less important when citizens have a means of reaching out to the president - a president put into power through the concerted action of citizens - directly. The populism of the current administration both supports and upsets these activists, as we will see.

Update, July 18:

The fact that overworked public servants dealing with these applications are speeding up the processing of the Yemenis' applications, as mentioned two paragraphs above, should be worrying considering that the Chosun Ilbo has just reported that an Arabic interpreter hired by the Justice Ministry, who had "no professional qualifications but was a[n undergraduate] student of business administration with Arabic as a minor subject," and who was likely hired to save money, "habitually misrepresent[ed]" "stories of asylum seekers, often making them appear in an unfavorable light that may have damaged their chances of staying."
In one instance, a review showed that an asylum seeker told the court in Arabic that he suffered political repression in his home country, but Chang [the interpreter] rendered it as, "I came here to make money." [...] It is unclear whether he was simply incompetent or motivated by malice. [...] 
Chang translated in more than 100 asylum application cases over the past two years. As a result of an internal investigation, the ministry voided 55 of its own decisions against asylum seekers where he was involved, and has already reversed two and granted the applicants asylum.
It goes on to note that "only a handful" of contract or regular translators in government offices have proper qualifications, and that Jeju lacks properly qualified Korean-Arabic translators.

It would seem I was wrong to conclude that the Chosun Ilbo article I mentioned above indicated a stance on the Yemeni refugees. Mind you, the possibility that an article portraying Yemenis as drug-addled molesters was not written for any political purpose but was just a par-for-the-course article isn't exactly reassuring.

Oh, and this seems like a rather badly-timed article.