Thursday, April 25, 2019

Seeing the North Korean Refugees as Family

"Have you ever eaten a banana?" "Have you seen anything like this before?" Those who have defected from the North have heard similar questions at least once since coming to the South. Are you on the right or left? Do you hate the North Korean regime? Direct questions asking them to make a choice.

A recent article in the Catholic Peace Weekly is asking the readers to get rid of their jaundiced view of the North Korean refugees. In the South there are now about 32,000 who have come from the North. They are often called new settlers, in a diplomatic attempt not to upset the North. 

These new arrivals felt oppression both in mind and daily life, and came to the South hoping for a new life. Many are here for economic reasons rather than political or ideological reasons. However, life is difficult, they receive pity but discrimination is always present. They often hear the word Communist, Red.  The National Human Rights Commission of Korea reported that 45 percent of North Koreans felt  discrimination in  the South because of birthplace.
Young North Koreans the writer met  told  her they hide their hometowns and try to get rid of their North Korean manner of speaking. One North Korean said he felt depressed by people's gaze for being 'helped' even though he was living independently. Many succeeded in overcoming these prejudices and have become self-reliant, and sucessful  but many  still conceal their identities.

The Republic of Korea is clearly a unification-oriented country. We want to be one country again. Reasons  and time for reunification may be different, but everyone dreams for the end of the War. What is the cost of unification, and what order do we follow  to   make  peace?  The controversy that remains among the citizens is necessary and healthy.

Eforts to overcome the discrimination towards North Korean defectors is a sign of what will be necessary for unification to work.  It is natural to help them settle into a different culture, but what is not necessary is to add to the prejudice by questioning looks. These are not passive beings, but citizens who are self-reliant and contributing to society. 

Most flee via China, which has the longest border with North Korea and is easier to cross than the heavily protected Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas. However, the tighter border controls and the money necessary has increased which has decreased the  numbers going to China and eventually South Korea. China regards the defectors as illegals and often sends them back to North Korea.

There are many who have left South Korea for other parts of the world but  since they are South Korean citizens they are no longer considered refugees when  they go to another country.  A few  of them  found it difficult to adapt to a capitalist way of life and have returned to the North but we have those who had no difficulty and thrived so there are no one easy overview of what is happening with the refugees.  

What does remain are the South Korean efforts to make the refugees entrance into Korean society as easy as possible. They are the test that will show the ability of the South to envision a one Korea and in harmony sitting down at the same table to eat.

1 comment:

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