Commentary: Why a North Korean defected to South Korea then went home

Commentary: Why a North Korean defected to South Korea then went home

13/1/2022 1:13:00 AM

Commentary: Why a North Korean defected to South Korea then went home

Given the discrimination and bullying North Korean defectors in South Korean face, it's no surprise that some rather tolerate poor living conditions in North Korea than endure more social stigmatisation in South Korea, says an international relations professor.

These “Hanawon” (house of unity) as they are called, last for 60 to 75 days and are widely thought of as inadequate to equip refugees from the North for even very low level employment in the South.The refugees (saetominor “new settlers”) are allocated their first place of residence by the government (often outside Seoul) and from then on are effectively on their own. They often find it very hard to make a good living in the South.

Despite being a dynamic free market democracy, success depends on a system of informal connections. These tend to be based on regional origins and graduation from certain educational institutions.It’s a hierarchical old boys network known ashakyeon-jiyeon

Read more: CNA »

Their spying mission was complete.

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North Koreans fleeing to the South receive government support to begin with. On arrival in South Korea, refugees from the North seeking citizenship and residence attend classes to prepare them for their new lives. These “ Hanawon ” (house of unity) as they are called, last for 60 to 75 days and are widely thought of as inadequate to equip refugees from the North for even very low level employment in the South. The refugees ( saetomin or “new settlers”) are allocated their first place of residence by the government (often outside Seoul) and from then on are effectively on their own. They often find it very hard to make a good living in the South. Despite being a dynamic free market democracy, success depends on a system of informal connections. These tend to be based on regional origins and graduation from certain educational institutions. It’s a hierarchical old boys network known as hakyeon-jiyeon into which escapees from the North have a hard time fitting. LOOKING FOR A FUTURE Many refugees come from the northern provinces of North KOrea and are mostly manual workers or farmers with a very poor level of education. So the earnings they can achieve in the South are often too little to live properly. In 2019 a defector and her young son died in Seoul – apparently of starvation. Military guard posts of North Korea, rear, and South Korea, front, are seen in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea on Sunday (Jan 2). (Photo: AP/Ahn Young-joon) North Korean refugees not only suffer from social stigma, but experience mistreatment, suspicion and discrimination from many southerners. This can result in profound alienation and puts them at risk of mental health illnesses. It’s a cycle of despair which makes it hard to understand their situation and obtain help – making it more difficult to secure a decent living. About 80 per cent of the North Korean defectors in South Korea are female. Many of these women, who typically suffer from discrimination by employers and have difficulty in accessing social services, are forced into prostitution. There have been reports that many employers in the South are suspicious of persons with North Korean accents. Meanwhile, North Korean children often face rejection and sometimes bullying at school in the South. At the other end of the scale, older escapees face destitution because they are unable to access South Korea’s “defined benefit” pension scheme, which is based on contributions over the working life of a person. If a refugee close to retirement age has not made any contributions, on retirement he or she will be entitled to the basic old age pension that provides a maximum of 204,010 won (US$170) per month. Poverty in old age is a serious problem in the South which disproportionately affects North Koreans, given their situation. Related: