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Asia Minute: South Korean Stop for Afghan Refugees?

Afghanistan evacuation military 082421
Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/AP
U.S. Marine Corps
In this image provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, a Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit walks with a family during ongoing evacuations at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 24, 2021. (Sgt. Samuel Ruiz/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

Evacuations from Kabul continued Tuesday. Many Afghans who worked with American forces are eventually heading to the United States, but the government is also looking for temporary locations — reports say that includes at least one ally in Asia.

South Korea’s Foreign Minister says the United States asked to house Afghan refugees for a short time at U.S. military bases in South Korea.

The minister told lawmakers Monday “the possibility was discussed at the very basic level at an early stage.”

He added the Korean government would have to give its consent to keep Afghan evacuees at the bases, and that “talks are not proceeding currently.”

Still, just the mention of that possibility sparked a cautious reaction from lawmakers.

There’s a separate discussion underway concerning roughly 400 Afghans who worked for the South Korean government and companies in Afghanistan.

On Monday, about 30 families of those workers gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, saying they feared their relatives will be persecuted under the Taliban.

Korea does not have a history of accepting many refugees. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development says the country ranks 35th among 37 members on that measure.

But the head of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea says it’s time for that to change, adding, “Since we have become an advanced country, shouldn’t we take such responsibility?”

Public opinion surveys on accepting refugees have shown mixed results, with more support coming for refugees from North Korea.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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