Friday, April 01, 2011

A listening ear for North Korean defectors

North Korean defectors, like many others living in South Korea, suffer from ailments, but, unlike most, they have difficulty conveying them to doctors.

Tucked inside the National Medical Center in Seoul, the North Korean Defector Medical Counseling Center has been host to over 4,000 patients since its opening in 2007. Run by The Organization for One Korea, a civic group in favor of unification, the center helps refugees communicate with hospital staff and understand the medical culture here.

The center also gives them a place free from judgment and prejudice. “There are a lot of people who come for consultations and while they are waiting they usually talk about their hometown and things they have been through without hesitation, developing a bond like relatives,” said Im Hyang, 38.

Im, a defector herself, said it doesn’t matter if they do not know one another because, for those 10 minutes of waiting, they are family. “It almost acts as a community center because people come in here and pour out their feelings that they could not do otherwise, which helps people here become more familiar with each other,” she said.

Many defectors are struck by depression and loneliness which become root problems for other ailments. According to Im, they defect into the South alone and have no one to lean on in tough times, often exacerbating illnesses and leading to excessive drinking.

North Korean refugees come from as far as Jeju Island and Busan to seek medical counseling in Seoul, simply for this companionship.

No comments: