Sunday, July 26, 2009

North Koreans start from scratch in South Korea

North Korean refugees start their new lives in South Korea by learning to use computers, ATMs and washing machines.

After arriving from North Korea in February, Kim [for security reasons, not his full name] has now begun to use a computer for the first time in his life. “Normal citizens (in North Korea) are not permitted to possess computers or even fax machines,” explains 62-year-old Kim, a former Pyongyang resident who fled to the South.

For North Koreans, being accepted by wealthy and Western-oriented South Korea is like discovering a new world that warrants a time-consuming and often difficult integration process.

Kim lives with some 750 other refugees in Hanawon, about 80km south of Seoul near the town of Ansong. The refugees hear about urban life, attend courses about the market economy and learn how to apply for jobs. They also are tutored in activities such as surfing the internet and using household appliances and banking machines.

The main problem is the refugees’ inability to assimilate. In communist North Korea they are told what to do, but in the South they are initially helpless when confronted with competition pressure.

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