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Call center to open for N.K. defectors

A 24-hour call center will be set up to help North Korean defectors deal with problems while resettling in the South, according to the Unification Ministry on Tuesday.

The North Korean Refugees Foundation plans to support the call center by organizing a network of social assistance with resettlement officers, counselors and additional volunteers.

They also plan to build a nationwide network of support involving medical facilities, related ministries and “Hana Centers,” designed to help improve the welfare of North Korean refugees.

To get the call center running by May, the foundation will implement a computerized database.

Within the first half of the year, the foundation will increase the number of shelters for female defectors and those not yet assigned housing.

The foundation plans to run the shelters in conjunction with various religious organizations.

They will also increase the number of after-school student centers for children of North Korean refugees, from five to ten locations, mainly throughout Seoul and Gyeonggi Province.

The Unification Ministry believes that the successful resettlement of North Korean refugees is a stepping stone to unification.

To support those who defected to the South the foundation secured over 24 billion won ($21 million)

More than 20,000 North Koreans, some 68 percent of whom are women, have defected to the South so far.

The number of North Korean refugees who arrived in the South surpassed 1,000 in 1999, increased tenfold by 2007, and has doubled in the last three years.

More than half of the North Korean defectors receive minimum cost of living payments from the government, which only about 3.2 percent of the nation’s population are provided with.

The Ministry launched the foundation through increasing and reorganizing the previous aid association.

By Robert Lee (rjmlee@heraldcorp.com)
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