Thursday, September 02, 2004

from the Herald

Interesting article from the Korea Herald about NK defectors, reprinted here in full. Note the statistics and the remarks about defector-related crime.


South Koreans from the government down to people in the street warmly welcome defectors from the communist North when they arrive, but the honeymoon doesn't last long and leaves most refugees with shattered dreams of a comfortable life.

Food company director Yoon Sung-chul is one of a handful of defectors to forge a breakthrough, but it has been far from easy.

"The label of North Korean defector is a kind of scarlet letter," he told The Korea Herald.

When he came to South Korea in 1996 he was buoyant, full of hope that his new life in democratic country would be prosperous and happy. The dream was soon shattered.

Though he joined a car sales firm after two months of training by the government, everyone he met avoided him as if he had the plague. Customers, co-workers, neighbors and others looked at him coldly or ignored him once they found out he was a North Korean defector, he said.

After 1-1/2 years the firm went bankrupt and in 2000 Yoon set up a small company with seven other North Korean defectors, pooling their savings and obtaining government support.

Their company, Daegwalleyeong Food, based in Samcheok, Gangwon Province, provides noodles and wheat flour to small enterprises, and also provides labor training for other defectors.

Yoon said he personally knew of eight or nine North Korean defectors who could not adapt to working for Korean companies because the system in the North and South differ so greatly.

"North Korean defectors cannot avoid the serious culture shock," he said. "For them to overcome their confusion, the government must help them to be independent in their new environment."

Nearly 5,000 North Korean defectors now live in South Korea, with the number increasing in recent years because of the dire economic situation in their homeland. Most flee into China and then hope somehow to make their way to South Korea.

The Ministry of Unification says 760 North Koreans entered South Korea from the beginning of the year to the end of June, a 28 percent increase compared to the same period last year. In July some 460 North Koreans were flown to Seoul from an unidentified Asian country which they entered, presumably from China.

The defectors, freed from the shackles of poverty and hardship in the communist North, expect a life of plenty in the capitalist South but very rarely is that the case. Yoon is one of the exceptions.

A survey by Hanawon, a training establishment for North Korean defectors affiliated with the Ministry of Unification, said about 40 percent of defectors are unemployed.

The survey, which targeted 206 North Korean refugees now in the South, said 40.8 percent were jobless and only about 15 percent had stable work. Of the rest, 27.5 percent had temporary jobs, 11.6 percent part-time work and just over 5 percent were involved in small business ventures.

Some 78 percent of defectors earned less than one million won per month and 14.5 percent made no money and depended entirely on governmental support.

One troubling statistic was that more North Korean defectors are turning to crime because they cannot adapt to South Korean society and earn a proper living.

The National Police Agency put the number of crimes committed by North Korean defectors at 127 in 2001, 206 in 2002, 216 in 2003 and 195 in the first half of 2004, showing an increase each year as more defectors entered the country.

Although the majority of crimes committed by defectors are theft and traffic violations, there has also been an increase in violent crimes and murder.

"Especially this year, the rate of crime has gone up rapidly and the Korean government must strengthen its education and employment policies for defectors as soon as possible," a police official said on condition of anonymity.

One of the biggest obstacles defectors face is what Yoon described as the South Korean public's double standard toward them.

"At first, people welcomed me and gave me a warm reception. However, they soon started to ignore me and in some cases, they swindled me because I did not know better," he said.

A prime example of the frustration suffered by some defectors came on Aug. 8 when a 26-year-old North Korean man, known only by his family name Kim, was arrested by police for beating up and severely injuring a 23-year-old female university student.

Kim confessed he intentionally committed the crime so he would be sent to prison. He said that after escaping from the autocratic North alone in 2001 and getting to the South, he was unable to adapt to life here. He could not find a proper job or a girl friend.

Most Korean companies are reluctant to hire North Korean defectors because they are not familiar with the South's work system and standards and could affect efficiency, experts said.

The generally cool and often cold reception encountered by defectors looking for jobs or trying to meld with the South's lifestyle are commonplace.

Residents in Icheon, Gyeonggi Province, protested against the government's recent plan to construct a school in the area to educate North Korean defectors and provide job skill training.

People said such a school and the presence of many defectors would badly damage the city's image.

"All the residents who participated in the discussion objected to the government plan to build a school for North Korean defectors here," village head Nam Kuk-hyeon said.

To overcome such situations, many experts and professors insist the government must help North Korean defectors to find jobs and be independent.

Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-jo said in late July that the ministry will change its current system of support for North Korean defectors from Jan. 1.

At present, the ministry gives 35 million won in resettlement money to a single defector, 45 million won for families of two, 55 million won for three-member families and 64 million won for any family of four or more. From Jan. 1 the money will be reduced by 20 million won.

"The ministry will cooperate with NGOs to protect North Korean defectors and maintain their human rights. And the ministry will entrust the North Korean refugees' education and training to each local government from next year," Rhee said.

North Chungcheong Province, in the central region of the country, is the first local government to start preparing education and job training measures for defectors. Altogether 101 North Korean defectors, about 70 percent in their 20s and 30s, are now in the province. Some 80 percent are jobless but the local government plans to recommend their employment by social activist groups and religious bodies.

The lack of educational institutions for defectors is another problem. There are only a few education centers with any facilities to train refugees but their programs are not geared to help the defectors be independent of government support.

"We provide a two-month training program for defectors. The center teaches the refugees some basic English and Chinese characters as well as how to use computer programs," Lee Myung-heon of the Hanawon center said. "However, we cannot actually help them to find employment."

The central government plans more education centers and schools for defectors in the near future, and will develop courses on Korean and Western history as well as job skills and advanced language training.

But there is still a long way to go, said sociology professor Eom Myo-seop at Catholic University in Daegu.

"More and more North Korean refugees will come to South Korea as time goes by. The government has to start preparing fundamental measures so North Korean people can adapt to our society after the unification," she said.


By O Youn-hee

So much for brotherhood.


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