Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Upon first arriving in South Korea, North Korean refugees are taken to an intelligence facility for a month of ''interrogation,'' during which the government questions them, in part to determine if they're spies.

Afterward, they're bused to a barbed-wire compound among cornfields an hour and a half southeast of downtown Seoul called the Hanawon facility, where all new refugees spend two months learning the concepts of a new society. There are lessons on food, culture and the Anglicized dialect of the South Korean language -- and then the magical things: computers, cellphones, newspapers, bank accounts, credit cards and insurance.

Even as the Hanawon facility is adding more dormitory space, South Korea doesn't quite yet know what to do with its increasing refugee population.

Since the death of Kim Il Sung and the floods and famine of 1995, more and more people have risked their lives to cross the Chinese-Korean border. Last year alone, with the increased activity of South Korean religious and evangelical groups working surreptitiously to establish an underground railroad in China, 1,200 North Koreans made it to South Korea, twice as many as the year before.

And with an estimated 200,000 North Koreans living in China now, many of them hoping to immigrate to South Korea, the South Korean government may soon have a crisis on its hands.

[Excerpt of an article by Michael Paterniti, GQ magazine]

A daunting leap from Stalinist homeland to life in what has become Asia's third biggest economy. Read more on the subject:
"Unification of Koreas compared to Germany"

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