Saturday, March 03, 2007

Crash Course for North Korean Defectors

On a sprawling campus hidden in farmland in South Korea, about 300 North Koreans are learning that, no, actually, it was not the South that started the Korean War.

And, yes, America is an ally, their re-education goes, before broaching the A B C's of capitalism, human rights and democracy. Field trips focus on how to apply for a job or use an automated teller machine. Women are shown the finer points of home decorating; men, the basic skills to fix the home boiler.

Soon after landing in South Korea, all North Korean defectors come here to the South Korean government's main resettlement center, called Hanawon, or to annex, for a three-month crash course on life south of the demilitarized zone.

To hear North Koreans tell it, South Korea is bewildering precisely because it is at once familiar and alien.

Very few defectors came to South Korea until the mid-1990's, when famine in the North sent many refugees into China. Since then, as a network of South Korean evangelical Christian missionaries and smugglers has established itself in China, the numbers have sharply risen.

Graduates of the three-month resettlement program receive a stipend and are provided with low-cost public housing. They are also entitled to welfare benefits in case of unemployment and cash incentives for job training.

Out in the real world, many defectors who have come here with unrealistically high expectations find out that they are prepared for only the most menial of jobs.

[Excerpt from New York Times]

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