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[Editorial] 10,000 Defectors

Posted January. 29, 2007 04:43,   


The number of North Koreans who have become citizens of Republic of Korea after risking their lives to defect from the communist regime has surpassed 10,000. Yesterday, North Korean defectors even held a memorial assembly in Seoul with the help of the Commission to Help North Korean Refugees. “We will launch a campaign that each freed North Korean (North Korean defector) rescues another North Korean,” participants of the rally declared.

Although it is very inspiring, it also gives a sense of guilt to us because they are the less fortunate ones experiencing big challenges settling down in South Korean society. Given that, I believe it is now time to make a major change in our views and policies toward North Korean defectors.

North Korean defectors are not only valid members of our community, but also a foundation in eliciting changes from North Korea. “Just the fact that the number of North Korean defectors in South Korea has exceeded over 10,000 will deal an enormous blow to the Kim Jong Il regime,” an expert said. Information about the outside world and the money that 10,000 North Korean defectors send to their families in North Korea have been pivotal in inducing changes in North Korea.

Having direct and indirect contacts with North Korean defectors in Korea, many North Korean residents are now well aware of true realities, such as international sanctions imposed on North Korea due to its irresponsible nuclear test, or reasons behind the deporting of numerous humanitarian aid groups out of their country. More of those contacts will eventually lead to an escalating demand for freedom and liberalization within North Korean society.

The South Korean government has repeatedly emphasized that it has drawn up contingency plans in case of a massive defection of North Koreans. However, the government seems to lack political imagination or ideas when it come to making use of North Korean defectors already in Korea to change the North Korean regime. What is worse, the government is considering defectors headaches that hamper its engagement policy toward Pyongyang.

Though belated, the government should change its mentality now. “North Korean defectors in South Korea represent a small North Korea. If you can manage a small North Korea smoothly, you can successfully manage a big North Korea,” said Andrey Lankov, a Russian expert on Korean Peninsula and professor at Kookmin University. This is a very poignant point. Pro-North Korean leftists who always shout for “unification without foreign interventions” should keep this remark in mind.

Korean society in general should also change its attitude toward North Korean defectors. Unless North Korean defectors are no longer recognized as social failures, the government will not be able to achieve any significant outcome on improving inter-Korean relations or preparing for unification.