Saturday, April 5, 2014

Affection in the Life of Refugees

A refugee from North Korea explains in a column in the Catholic Times that the transition from the North to the South is difficult for most of them. They have had to overcome many difficulties, she says, even the threat of death. And yet there are  some refugees who want to return to the North, and do.

Life in the South is not easy for the refugee. They have to work hard, and because their speech gives them away as being from the North, they experience prejudice, have low paying jobs and seldom receive the human affection they were accustomed to having in the North. The North also makes it easy to return and gives them a sizable sum of money and a chance to appear on North Korean television.

In her article, she says she misses the love and affection she experienced back home the most. Lacking family ties in the South, this affection is difficult to replace, she says. Since October of last year she was in a place of rest for Korean refugees and says she was able to adapt well to the new conditions, with help from the religious sisters at the center.

She worked  part-time in a restaurant where many would ask, because of her speech, if she was from the North, and also ask about certain Chinese words and their meanings; she would answer that she wasn't Chinese, making it clear, upset though she was, that she was Korean. She remembers the words of one of the religious sisters: "More than money you are learning about people so do all your work zealously and it will not be difficult." Remembering these words has made her work less difficult, she says, knowing that no matter what she does, how well she fits in will depend on how well she responds to the environment.  Personal relationships, just as the sister told her, are extremely important regardless of where you find yourself.

For refugees the biggest difficulty is the language and cultural differences. A friend,  who has been in the country a year longer than she, was working in a beauty parlor and mentioned that  the language and  the culture posed the biggest problem. There were many misunderstandings and friction with those she was working with. This is also the situation for most of the refugees, the writer says, admitting that you can't very easily change habits that have been with you for over 20 years.  This is not only the case with her friend but true of all those who have defected to the South. She mentions how the owner of the restaurant in which she works has often mentioned, laughing, what he considered to be her "bad habits."

Her biggest need, she says, is for affection. Without the affection of parents and friends, she says that settling in the South is a major problem for refugees and that the fear of separation continues to haunt them and makes intimacy with others difficult. As for herself, she says that when she has affection for another and it comes to parting, it is like a needle in her heart, giving her much pain. This is a sad fact, she says, for all those who have left their families to come to the South. 

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