Published : 2013-10-22 19:37
Updated : 2013-10-22 19:37
Guiding North Korean defectors to a secure and stable life here may be a key touchstone of Seoul’s capability to smoothly integrate the two disparate societies in the event of national reunification. Defectors who have successfully settled in the South would be able to play a bridging role to facilitate the integration process.
But figures recently released by a lawmaker on the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee showed there were many gaps in the system to manage and care for escapees from the North.
Of the 25,560 North Korean defectors who had arrived here as of the end of August, 689 lived abroad after acquiring South Korean nationality. Fifty-one defectors took refuge in a third country following a brief sojourn here.
Since 2008, 23 defectors have been handed down prison terms of more than one year for committing crimes and nine have gone back to the North. Failure to adapt to the new life in the South has also apparently led 26 defectors to kill themselves.
These figures highlight the need to strengthen efforts to keep defectors on the right path toward successful resettlement here. Under a law enacted in 1997, central and local administrations have implemented support programs for North Korean settlers. Each of them is paid up to 48 million won ($45,000) in funds for housing and job training.
It is certainly impracticable to provide them with everything they need for an indefinite period. What is needed is to establish a more comprehensive and effective system to help defectors land more stable jobs and make a long-term life plan. It may also be necessary to encourage them to be more responsible for overcoming difficulties in adapting to the competitive life of the capitalist South.
The increasing number of escapees who have opted to live abroad has raised questions about whether support funds should be given to those regarding the South just as a transit route and not a place of permanent settlement. In principle, there is no preventing defectors from going to a third country as all people are entitled to the freedom of moving or living wherever they want under the Constitution. Efforts need to be strengthened to reduce the factors that push defectors to leave the South they have entered at the risk of their lives.
Apart from this endeavor, stricter measures should be taken to bar some North Korean settlers here from seeking refuge in foreign countries under the guise of political asylum. It cannot be tolerated that they make false claims about being politically persecuted and socially discriminated against in South Korean society.
What is more alarming is the infiltration of North Korean spies disguised as defectors. Figures from South Korean authorities show that of the 49 people arrested for pro-North Korea espionage activities in the last decade, 21 arrived here posing as escapees from the North. Screening and monitoring should be tightened to capture North Korean spies disguised as defectors, who cause genuine escapees anxiety, hampering their comfortable resettlement. They may also be given the mission of doing harm to key South Korean figures critical of the oppressive regime in Pyongyang.
Though mostly manipulated by Pyongyang’s propaganda machine, some cases of defectors expressing disillusionment with their life in the South after returning to the North have somewhat embarrassed the Seoul government. These put-on shows will look absurd as systematic and effective efforts continue to be made to help defectors resettle here successfully.