Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Welcoming North Korean Refugees in the South

Refugees from the North now living in South Korea have increased, and the recent attack on one of our islands, coming after the sinking of the Cheonan, will soon tell us what affect it will have on refugees. Distrust of the North Koreans is understandable and this recent incident could make matters worse. There are now over 20,000 North Koreans living here. A columnist  for the Catholic Times gives us background information highlighting some of the potential problems.

Over 80 percent of the refugees are women. Until the year 2,000, women refugees numbered under 50 percent, and the ages were from 20 to 40. Difficulty of life in North Korea prompted many of them to leave for China and from there the trip to S.K was less of a problem. The men have to spend about 10 years in army service, which makes it more difficult for them.

The number of women who have found employment is much lower than it is for the men. The government knows about the problem and has changed the law recently to be of more help to the refugees. However, from the tone of the column, the plight of the refugees is greater than in the past because of the larger numbers. A survey of 222 refugees revealed that over 56 percent were not making $500 dollars a month, the government's figure for sustainable life.

Because of the difficulty of making it alone, many get into prostitution or line up at the marriage bureaus to find someone to make their life easier--a sure sign of how difficult it is to make the transition to life here.

The columnist compares the refugee problem in Korea to the problem in Germany after unification. Many of those that stayed in East Germany suffers even now from the after-effects of the hunger they experienced, while those who went to West Germany, risking life in the slums, became part of that society. The present Chancelor of Germany, Angela Merkel, is one of this group.

A recent visitor from Germany, a member of the government, mentioned that it will be very important to know how well the North Korean refugees are doing here in the South, for it will determine the ability of the South and North to come together someday in the future.

The columnist feels that there is more the government and different organizations in the South can do to help. He also feels that the Catholic Church should be doing more to help the refugees in making the difficult transition to life in the South.

Individual Catholics have taken refugees into their homes to ease them into the South Korean culture. It gives them some time to learn about life here from fellow Koreans and about the work possibilities. This is a good way for our Catholics to get involved in a great work of charity and to prepare for the day of unification.