Monday, October 26, 2009

NK Defectors Fail to Assimilate into Korean Society

As reported in today's online version, the Dong-A Ilbo's Investigative Team
... sent questionnaires to the 470 defectors [from NK who entered the South by way of China through Vietnam in July, 2004] for three months from July 16, among whom 200 answered. The team conducted face-to-face, phone and written interviews to find out their occupations, income, housing situation and life satisfaction.

Alas, all they came away with was about 500 words of plebeian reporting, mainly centered on the economic success (or lack thereof) of the defectors--about 30% are chronically unemployed, and many of the rest face economic hardship due to lack of job skills and training, and the fact that they send whatever they can to family members stuck in the North or hiding in China.
The survey found that most defectors are still wandering around and struggling to survive in the South. Their noticeable linguistic accent, cultural differences, and a public reluctant to embrace them were the main reasons preventing their assimilation.

So much so that some have moved on to other countries, mainly in Europe. One defector who lives in London is quoted as saying, "We always faced hardship in South Korea due to our status as North Korean defectors."

I'm not clear on why this attitude exists among South Koreans, but I noted it too in Kang Chol-hwan's frightening, harrowing and moving account of his years in North Korea's Yodok "re-education camp" and subsequent escape (more here). In summary,
Yeom Yoo-shik, a sociology professor at Yonsei University, said, "This is the first time so many North Korean defectors were selected randomly and surveyed extensively.
"Through the study of North Korean defectors who moved to South Korea over the same period, we can learn what factors are important for North Koreans to adapt to South Korea. As such, the study will be a great reference for Seoul in setting subsidy policy."

Prof. Yeom is probably right, but the fact is that the article that resulted from the "study" provides virtually none of the information needed to understand and deal with the deeper issues of the lack of assimilation.

While I understand the political difficulties involved in taking in defectors, once they are here, it seems to me there is a responsibility to assimilate them: resettlement subsidies are only a beginning. These are people so courageous or desperate that they faced death to flee the barbarous regime just north of here--starved, brainwashed, fearful, hyper suspicious, the culture shock could last for years.

I want to learn about that--what were their first thoughts when they saw a bustling Seoul, the aisles of rice and produce in E-Mart; what do they still fear about the NK machinery; at what moment did you realize you had no choice but flee; what is it like to reject the Dear Leader you were forced to adore; do the songs of worship you sometimes hear in your head haunt you or make you laugh today?

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