Go to contents

NK Defectors Fail to Assimilate Into S. Korean Society

Posted October. 26, 2009 08:49,   


Four hundred seventy North Korean defectors who entered Vietnam through China arrived in South Korea aboard two chartered flights July 27-28, 2004. Five years have passed since their arrival, yet most of them still struggle to adapt to their new home.

The Dong-A Ilbo’s investigative reporting team sent questionnaires to the 470 defectors 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.

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.

Many said they had trouble landing jobs due to discrimination against them. Sixty-two (31 percent) of the 200 defectors said they were unemployed. Among the 165 in the economically active ages of 20 to 65, 48 (29 percent) were jobless.

Even among those who claimed to have jobs, 20 were working as day laborers and 15 servers at cafeterias, two occupations with low security. Only 29 had been working at their jobs for at least a year.

Due to the lack of secure jobs, low income was the norm for most defectors. The average monthly household income for the defectors was a mere 1.42 million won, less than half of the average 3.3 million won a South Korean household earned in this year’s second quarter, according to the National Statistical Office.

Compounding the problem for the defectors was their family members still in the North or hiding in China. Many defectors said they sent their resettlement subsidies from South Korea to their families in North Korea or China.

About half of the subsidies were given to human smugglers who help defectors leave the North. Many defectors were sending all of the money they earned in the South to their families in the North.

Many defectors who moved to the South with big dreams but failed to adapt ended up immigrating to other countries. Twenty of the 200 defectors moved to Britain, France, Germany or Japan.

Dong-A met six defectors in London who were granted political asylum. They said they receive unemployment and childrearing subsidies and medical care, saying they have a better life in England than in South Korea.

One of the defectors in London said, “We always faced hardship in South Korea due to our status as North Korean defectors.”

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.”