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Mass North Korean Defector Dilemma Begins

Posted July. 27, 2004 21:56,   


As the full-scale mass entrance of North Korean defectors into South Korea begins, the government’s countermeasures do not seem to be catching up with the situation.

Accordingly, louder and louder voices are heard claiming that the government should prepare a fundamental solution for the occurrence of mass North Korean defectors and their large entrance.

The first group of 200 out of 450 defectors who had been staying in a southeast Asian country arrived at Seoul airport in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province via Asiana chartered plane in the morning of July 27.

They moved to an in-service training institute of a financial agency in the same province and will be investigated by the authorities for a month. The second group of 250 will also enter the country using a chartered plane of Korean airline in the morning of July 28.

The Minister of Unification Chung Dong-young met reporters before a Cabinet meeting held in Cheong Wa Dae on the morning of the same day and said, “There will come an era of having 100,000 defectors in a few years, for which we need to review our measures and upgrade them. They were only on the level of just helping a few defectors settle so far, but we’ll examine comprehensive measures by developing and enriching them.”

In regard to this, experts are predicting there will be an era of hundreds of thousands of defectors soon because the number has already reached into the high thousands (200,000-300,000 by the government’s estimation) who have sought refuge in other places such as China.

However, not only is there a lack of social consensus on the mass entrance of North Korean defectors inside South Korean society, but also the legal and institutional infrastructure and financial support for them are not enough.

Although the government has driven a path of “quiet diplomacy” for a while on the grounds of diplomatic relations with China and North Korea and safety of defectors, experts are claiming with one voice that their safe entrance and smooth settlement are possible only if a national consensus and an international agreement are reached for their acceptance into society.

According to the Unification Ministry on July 27, 1,500 defectors entered the country this year alone. The ministry secured 30 billion won in anticipation of supporting the need for settlement for 1,158 defectors who entered the country at the end of last year. But in reality, they cannot even compensate cash support for their early settlement.

The ministry plans to apply for reserve money to secure costs for supporting their settlement as it is expecting around 2,000 additional defectors by the end of this year.

Hanawon, an educational institute for defectors’ adaptation to South Korean society, has only capacity for 2,400 people, so more educational facilities and improvements of programs are urgently needed at this moment.

Another factor making their settlement hard is the cold attitude of South Koreans toward them. Recently, the government promoted the establishment of an “alternative school” for teenage refuges in Icheon, Kyoungki province, but the plan was nullified due to residents’ objections.

Professor Lee Woo-young of Kyoungnam Graduate School on North Korea said, “Unless the social atmosphere of looking down on refuges does not change, this reality of their wandering as strangers cannot help but continue.”

Hyong-gwon Pu Seung-Ryun Kim bookum90@donga.com srkim@donga.com