In contrast to the United States and many countries in Europe, where the younger generation tends to be more accepting of refugees, results from a JoongAng Ilbo survey released on Sunday showed the opposite in Korea: Older age groups were more welcoming of refugees.
The country remains starkly divided on how to handle more than 500 Yemenis who arrived on Jeju Island earlier this year seeking asylum from civil war, taking advantage of a visa-free program on the resort island. Younger women in particular expressed the most concern about refugees in the survey.
Among 1,000 adults interviewed across the country by phone last Wednesday and Thursday, 50.7 percent said they held generally favorable views of refugees, while 44.7 percent said they were opposed to them. The rest said they did not know or refused to give a definite answer.
More women said they were opposed than men, 50.4 percent versus 38.9 percent. When divided by age group, 58 percent of those 19 to 29 said they felt negatively about refugees in Korea, while 54.4 percent of people in their 30s felt the same, followed by 37 percent of people in their 40s, 37.3 percent in their 50s and 40.9 percent in their 60s or up.
The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points with a 95 percent confidence level.
Kim Dae-keun, a research fellow at the Korean Institute of Criminology, theorized that more younger women were hostile to refugees because most of the Yemeni asylum seekers are men. On why young adults were more opposed than older adults, Kim said the concern was about jobs.
Hostility toward refugees increased when asked about how they felt about Muslim asylum seekers, with 66.6 percent of respondents saying they were against them; 73.9 percent of women felt so versus 59.1 percent of men.
On whether Jeju needed to embrace the more than 500 Yemeni asylum seekers on the island, 61.1 percent answered no, and 27.3 percent of those people said they were very opposed to the idea.
Only 35.8 percent of respondents said they were optimistic about them living on the island, with 4.9 percent of them saying they highly supported their stay.
The reasons why Koreans opposed refugees varied. More than half (55.4 percent) of those who were against them cited public safety concerns about possible crime and terrorism; 18.3 percent cited differences in religion and culture; and 15.8 percent said they were worried about the social costs such as higher taxes.
Public safety concerns were highest among the youngest age group of 19 to 29 at 71.6 percent. That figure drops among older age brackets to 61.6 percent of people in their 30s, 56.6 percent in their 40s, 46.3 percent in their 50s and 40.9 percent in their 60s and up.
Koreans who welcomed refugees said they did because the country would gain a better reputation in the international community (63 percent), diversity would strengthen Korea’s competitiveness (16.2 percent) and refugees would help domestic industries that lack labor (16.2 percent).
Asked how Korea should handle the Yemeni asylum seekers on Jeju, 70.8 percent said the country should grant refugee status to a minimal number of them through a stringent screening process; 17.8 percent said they should be deported; and 9.9 percent said the country should give refugee status to as many of them as possible on humanitarian grounds.
Source: KOREA JOONGANG DAILY