Monday, July 12, 2010

Approach to resettling North Korean defectors criticized

The Hanawon resettlement center for North Korean defectors is located in Anseong, Gyeonggi outside Seoul. The Hanawon center, which was opened on July 8, 1999, has served as the gateway for a new life in South Korea. The center, built on 16.6 acres of land, provides defectors from North Korea with a basic education of how South Korean society functions, along with medical treatment and vocational training.

After three months, Hanawon discharges the defectors and provides them with subsidies for housing and assists them in finding a job.

“Some North Korean defectors seem to become so dependent on the government subsidies that they are unable to function normally,” said Kim Hyang-sun (an alias), a 34-year-old defector from Yanggang Province in the North.

However, Ha Tae-kyung, head of Open Radio for North Korea, a North Korean human rights group, said structural problems, including the government’s role in processing defectors, are to blame. Ha said the government should cooperate more with private organizations to provide more tailored and sustainable help for North Koreans instead of relying solely on Hanawon.

Sarah Kohls, a senior researcher at the Hanns-Seidel Foundation in Korea, part of a German NGO that promotes democracy andcivil society development, said that the South Korean public needs to play a role. She blamed the “closed minds” of South Koreans toward North Koreans for creating problems for the defectors. “I think ordinary South Koreans have a lot of resentment and prejudice [against the North Korean refugees],” Kohls said. “They don’t really know about refugees.”

Last year, 2,952 North Koreans came to the South. Based on current trends, the total number of North Korean defectors is set to exceed 20,000 this year.

[JoongAng Ilbo]

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