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[Opinion] Hanawon

Posted July. 08, 2004 22:23,   


According to the Korean census registration law, a domicile means the location of a family, the census registration unit. Generally, the hometown or town where ancestors are buried is considered as the domicile. However, thousands of people currently share the same address as their domicile in Korea. “Samjuk-myon, Ansung, Kyunggi Province…” They are those who have escaped from North Korea, who have a “Hanawon” address listed as their domicile. They live temporarily in Hanawon after they enter South Korea, and Hanawon is their second hometown where they are reborn as citizens of the Republic of Korea..

Hanawon, whose formal title is the “North Korean Defectors’ Settlement Support Office,” celebrated its fifth anniversary yesterday. Some 3,700 North Korean defectors have gone through it. They live there for two months learning how to adapt themselves in South Korean society before they leave. Main programs taught in Hanawon are programs designed to help them adapt themselves in South Korea’s culture, basic job training programs such as computers and driving, and programs to help to gain psychological stability and emotional acclimation. The cultural program includes cultural site visits, shopping practice, and public service activities.

Hanawon was established after referring to examples in Germany and Israel and refugee programs in western countries such as the U.S.A. Experts see Hanawon as a product of a more constructive policy than Germany’s, who achieved its unification earlier than Korea. It provides settlement funds, employment assistance, and other special treatment for five years for the new citizens to adapt themselves successfully to their new society. Experts find that the programs provided by Hanawon even consider “societal syntheses in a post-unification environment.” On the other hand, there are defectors who still keep their communist style of thinking and complain that the government does not provide enough support. It may be natural that the government and recent arrivals from North Korea have different expectation levels.

There is a limit to the government’s support for North Korean defectors because their numbers are increasing every day. Still, the current situation that the number of defectors failing to adjust themselves to South Korea is increasing cannot be ignored. In the end, wouldn’t the non-governmental side have to take care of the parts that the government cannot fulfill? The North Korean defectors miss a warm word and a small helping hand in this unfamiliar foreign land. If we can help each of them to settle themselves successfully in our society, the unification of North Korean and South Korean societies in the future will become much easier. In such a context, it is a small investment for the future of unified Korea to help North Korean defectors.

Song Moon-hong, editorial writer, songmh@donga.com