JEJU, South Korea – A subtropical island famed for its turquoise seas, female divers and golf courses, Jeju has attracted South Korean honeymooners for decades. In recent months, however, the resort island has been receiving a new type of visitor — asylum-seekers fleeing the catastrophe in Yemen.
Hani al-Junaid, a 37-year-old journalist, is one of them.
"There was no safe place in Yemen for me to hide," said Junaid, whose reporting on the Yemen conflict — called "the world's largest humanitarian crisis" by the United Nations — made him many enemies among the country's armed groups.
He landed on Jeju in May, and he is still waiting for the South Korean authorities to act on his refugee application. "I heard South Korea was open for Yemenis," he said.
The arrival of hundreds of Yemenis has created a wave of opposition, leading to what is considered South Korea's first organized anti-asylum movement.
"Let's kick out fake refugees!" people shouted during a rally on June 30 on the island, part of a wave of anti-immigrant fervor sweeping the country.
A petition asking President Moon Jae-in to stop taking in asylum-seekers has drawn more than 714,000 supporters, a record for such a petition.
Taken aback, the government of Moon, himself a son of wartime refugees from North Korea, has vowed to revise the laws to tighten screening of refugee applicants.
Jeju's popularity as a domestic vacation spot has been waning as South Koreans with rising incomes have begun flying to more far-flung destinations abroad.
So to revitalize the tourist industry, the island was granted permission in 2002 to introduce a no-visa policy for most foreign visitors, which filled its hotels with tourists from China and Southeast Asia.
When AirAsia began running direct budget flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Jeju in December, the island suddenly caught the attention of Yemeni asylum-seekers, who saw it as a steppingstone into mainland South Korea because they, too, were exempt from visas.
Thousands of Yemenis had fled to Malaysia because of the Muslim connection and because the country did not require tourist visas for them. But they could not stay there more than 90 days, so Jeju beckoned as a safe haven.
In the first five months of this year, 561 Yemenis arrived, up from 51 for all of last year.
Junaid, who arrived May 29, made it just in time. On June 1, South Korea added Yemen to the list of countries that need visas to enter Jeju.
South Korea takes pride in its homogeneous society and has long been averse to accepting asylum-seekers. Because of its location, the country has not been a major destination for refugees, aside from those fleeing North Korea, who are generally accepted as compatriots.
But that has been changing since 2013, when South Korea, under pressure from rights groups, adopted a new law providing protection for refugees. The number of asylum applicants has risen since, to 9,942 last year from 2,896 in 2014.
As the number grows, so does public wariness.
On April 30, a month before Junaid showed up, the government banned the 487 Yemeni asylum-seekers still on Jeju from leaving for the mainland while their applications were reviewed.
"Jeju was our best option," said Jamal Nasiri, 43, a former agricultural official in Yemen, who came here in May with his wife and five daughters. "We think about our future, how to keep our children safe and send them to school for a better life, because we are humans."