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Military aircraft with Afghan evacuees arrives in South Korea

SEOUL, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Nearly 400 evacuated Afghans arrived on Thursday in Seoul, where the government said it was amending the law to allow long-term stays for those who worked on South Korean projects in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power this month.

Immigration is a contentious issue in South Korea, where many pride themselves on ethnic homogeneity, even as the population of 52 million ages rapidly and the labour force dwindles.

At least two flights were to bring in 391 people, including the families of workers at the Korean embassy, the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), a hospital and Korean government-run vocational training institute and military bases.

Justice Minister Park Beom-kye said many Koreans had received international support after having had to flee during the Korean War, from 1950 to 1953.

"Now it is time for us to return the favour," he told a briefing at Incheon airport outside the capital, before the arrival.

The government was in the process of amending immigration laws to grant the Afghans long-term residency as foreigners who had provided special service to the country, Park added.

He acknowledged controversy over the plan, saying the decision to accept the Afghan evacuees had been "difficult", but added that South Korea could not give up on its friends.

"Despite the fact that we are physically apart in a distant country, they were practically our neighbours," he said. "How could we possibly turn a blind eye to them when their lives are at risk because of the fact that they worked with us?"

South Korea has accepted more than 30,000 North Korean defectors over the years, but it approves a much smaller number of asylum seekers from other countries.

In 2018 a sudden spike in Yemeni arrivals in the southern resort island of Jeju stoked fears over a possible rise in crime and other social woes, prompting a government crackdown on arrivals.

Just 55 of the 6,684 people who sought refugee status in South Korea in 2020 received it, with 127 more allowed to stay for humanitarian reasons, although not designated as refugees, justice ministry data shows.

Reporting by Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Sangmi Cha; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

SEOUL, Aug 24 (Reuters) - The United States has decided against the idea of using its largest overseas military bases in South Korea and Japan to temporarily house Afghan refugees, two sources with close knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

U.S. officials "appeared to have figured out better sites and decided to remove both countries from the list because of logistics and geography among other reasons", one of the sources said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.

The South Korean government had responded positively when the United States first floated the idea, the source added. read more

The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment.

South Korea was also working with the United States to evacuate some 400 Afghans who had worked with South Korean troops and relief workers and bring them to Seoul, the sources said.

Three military planes were sent to Afghanistan and neighbouring countries to carry out a mission to airlift the Afghan workers out, the foreign ministry told Reuters.

Most of the Afghans are medical personnel, engineers, translators and others who had aided South Korean troops stationed there between 2001 and 2014, or took part in a reconstruction mission from 2010-14 involving medical and vocational training.

"Despite some domestic resistance towards accepting refugees, these people helped us and it has to be done given the humanitarian concerns and the trust of the international community," said one of the sources.

Plans to bring them to Seoul were fraught with uncertainty due to the volatile situation in Kabul, where thousands of people are thronging the airport, desperate to flee following the Taliban's takeover of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

The United States and its allies are racing to complete the evacuation of all foreigners and vulnerable Afghans before the expiry of an Aug.31 deadline agreed with Taliban. read more

Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie

source: reuters (2)
Tags: political news, social issues

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