Wednesday, February 9, 2011

North Korean Defectors Talk of Harsh Repression and Hardship

As North Korea undergoes a controversial political transition, recently escaped defectors from the Communist country have reported conditions of harsh repression, rampant corruption amongst local officials, and massive unemployment in their new lives in South Korea.

According to surveys, defectors typically expect to be ultimately treated as equals when they reach the South, partly because South Korean laws stipulate it, and partly because Seoul has consistently sought to portray the notionally democratic South as better than the Communist regime in the North from which they escaped. However, typically defectors find the reality different to that portrayed in numerous K-drama propaganda DVDs which are widely watched in their former homeland.

"We are sixth-class citizens here" said one defector – referring to the increasing view in his community that North Koreans are ranked almost at the bottom of the social scale in Korea behind South Koreans, white foreigners, South Koreans who have been overseas too long, Korean Americans and migrant workers. The view is controversial since officially North Korean defectors are normally designated as fifth-class citizens in South Korea.

Controversy erupted last month after it was revealed that one defector had been sent to mental institution by a government resettlement center after he spoken back to his South Korean guards. His uncle - who lives in Seoul - was able to get him released, but it is feared that many other defectors may have been sent to psychiatric institutions never to be heard from again.

Defectors who successfully graduate from 'education programs' at the South Korea's heavily guarded Hanawon resettlement center often find obtaining work difficult, due to social discrimination and rules which prevent them from working in a number of 'sensitive' jobs. In recent years Seoul, in an effort to discourage North Koreans from settling in the South, has also has massively reduced the level of financial aid given to defectors, making their economic transition even more difficult. In a survey last year 30% of defectors surveyed said they wanted to escape to another country, with some saying they even wanted to return to North Korea.

In December, President Lee Myung-bak told North Korean defectors, foreigner laborers and multicultural families staying in South Korea to never give up hoping for a better life. He made the remarks at an expensive end-of-year dinner with a group of South Koreans who help as volunteers with society's disadvantaged. It was hoped they would pass the message on since hardly any North Koreans were invited as the event was felt to be too good for them.

Related Links
Lee advises N.K. defectors not to give up hope
24 Pct. of NK Defectors Wish to Leave S. Korea: Poll
NK defector illegally detained in mental hospital
Arrest Warrant Sought for 3 S.Koreans Who Attempted to Defect to NK
N. Korean refugees’ jobless rate hits 9.2%
Wikipedia: North Korean Defectors

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