Min-jae Kang of South Korea, discusses her perspectives on North Korean defectors’ to South Korea.
1. What are South Korea’s main immigration problems?
|Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between South Korean and North Korea|
North Korean defectors: North Korean defectors’ legal and illegal entry into the country has been a great burden to the South Korean government in numerous ways. North Korean defectors are often not categorized as refugees, despite their escape due to political oppression, as well as lack of food.
Illegal defectors go through countless challenges as they have to veil their identity in 3rd countries like China and Thailand in order to prevent repatriation to North Korea. Even those who enter legally into South Korea face obstacles such as adjusting to a new society and environment, fighting discrimination, hiding from North Korean spies, as well as coping with the fear of punishment for their family members left in North Korea.
The constitution of South Korea defines North Koreans as part of their citizens, nonetheless, North Koreans in South Korea are an undeniable social and political problem.
2. What are the barriers to solving those problems?
Cooperation and dialogue with North Korean government is not an option, since the defectors are viewed as traitors and political criminals in North Korea. The South Korean government has a limited budget to cover the expenses of providing good living conditions and education for the defectors. The situation also has provoked increased political tension between the two Koreas. The general social consensus is not open or positive toward North Korean defectors, and some even view them as enemies.
3. Is the South Korean government taking these problems seriously?
The South Korean government is reluctant to provide affirmative protection to this vulnerable social group. Hanawon provides education and training for the defectors, but this is a short-term program that is problematic; it is too short to provide adequate preparation to transition into a distinctively new society.
Bills have been proposed to extend the length of Hanawon education, but the adoption of the bills is still questionnable. Two-thirds of the Hanawon trainees are women. Needless to say that women and children are among the most vulnerable groups. Special care and educational training for women and children are a prerequisite for them to fight against potential threats, discrimination and abuse they will face in South Korean society.
4. What will be the impact of the issue in the future of Korean society?
More than 3,000 North Korean defectors entered South Korea in recent years. This has a great impact on the population of South Korea and as a social phenomenon itself. The issue of North Korean defectors is not only significant in proving South Korea’s constitutionality, it also is important in how South Korea positions itself against international standards of human rights.
It is very regretful that South Korea does not have a clear idea of how to protect North Koreans, its self-claimed citizens. South Korea needs a firm position in the international arena to address the needs of this vulnerable group, who leave their country because of serious human rights infringements.