Saturday, August 01, 2009

North Koreans struggle in new lives in South Korea

The South Korean government's Hanawon resettlement center, ringed with fences and tightly guarded by police, is the first stop for North Koreans who have fled their impoverished hardline communist homeland.

At the center southeast of Seoul, the refugees — more than 60 percent of whom are women — learn how to survive in an affluent capitalist democracy which often looks down on them as troublesome poor relations.

Sometimes they even struggle to understand what Southerners — with a different accent and many borrowed foreign words — are saying.

“They are all sick, mentally and physically,” Hanawon chief Ko Gyoung-Bin said at the center, which provides two months of basic job training, information on South Korea and lessons in survival skills — such as buying a subway ticket, opening a bank account and using a credit card.

Hanawon spends half its medical expenses on false teeth because many refugees have lost molars to malnutrition, Ko told AFP in a rare media interview. About 10 percent of new arrivals suffer from contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, he said.

They are also mentally vulnerable, worried about relatives left behind and debts to brokers who arranged their escape. Ko said about 20 percent need psychological treatment after graduating from their mandatory stay at Hanawon.

Finding stable jobs is the toughest part of adjusting to life in South Korea where discrimination against defectors is widespread, he said.

[The China Post]

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