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Thursday, July 08, 2004

Reports on the young Northern refugees in the South

The North-South issues in the Korean peninsula are not my cup of tea, but this series of reports by Chosun Ilbo is very interesting and revealing of the life of the Northern refugees in the South. Let's see if anything of it will be translated to English.

• "Children as South-North border people". Cheering for the ROK team in the 2002 World Cup, but being shocked after hearing the big losses DPRK suffered in the Western Sea clash in June 29, 2002. Becoming seemingly bothered from the thought of having turned one's back to the fatherland when seeing the DPRK soldier played by Song Kang-ho in the movie JSA to shout "Long live the Democratic People's Republic of Korea!" (조선 인민민주주의 공화국 만세!).
Few have really thought about having sought freedom; it's mostly about staying alive. Many express fondness for China, "more food than in North Korea but less competition than in South Korea." The idea of one nation is not much solace; the differences between the Koreas are too big.
• "The Northern refugee children we've abandoned: gaming, leaving home, suicides". Most young refugees try to keep the fact that they've come from the North hidden because the view of Northerners as somewhat lacking. There are 530 school-aged children (grammar, middle, high school) who are from the North; of them one in five goes to school properly. (Think of a case of a 12-year old who's in the 2nd class in grammar school.)
• "If there wasn't any hunger, I'd go back to the North". Don't know any Roman characters, afraid to take a bus or a subway, hate to go to school; after attending the settlement course in Hanawon operated by the Ministry of Unification, the Northerners are mostly on their own, and they are not faring well. Game-holism (?) and alcoholism are common among the young. As it's on the average 5 years between leaving DPRK and arriving at ROK, attending school and following instruction is a huge problem.
• "Most Northern refugees in need of psychiatric counseling and treatment". "Self-victimization, aggressiveness, reservation, overt attachment to money, strong desire to success" are some characteristics of the Northerners which have been formed in the difficult process of leaving the North and arriving at the South. They've learned to keep their mouths shut in the North, so people talking freely in the South may look intimidating. Money (bribes) makes anything possible in the North and in China. (Now that shouldn't be too different from the South...) And the desire to success too often meets the harsh realities of the South.

When Chosun is talking about DPRK matters, one would think it'd be just bashing DPRK and the ROK government, but these reports do discuss a real problem.

• Here's Andrei Lankov's latest column in Korea Times on the same topic: "Fate of Defectors"; Dr. Lankov's series of columns on DPRK, "Another Korea".

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