Hanawon, the government-run institution that trains and helps defectors settle in South Korea, celebrates its 10th anniversary on Wednesday. Until 1998, a year before Hanawon opened, a total of 947 North Koreans came to South Korea, but their numbers had grown to 16,513 by the end of June this year. More than 3,000 North Koreans are expected here this year alone, and next year there will be 20,000 living in South Korea.
But 58.4 percent of defectors who have settled in the South still consider themselves North Koreans, and only 6.3 percent think of themselves as South Koreans. This is according to a survey of 255 North Korean defectors by the Organization for One Korea published on June 30.
◆ Jobs Are the Main Problem
When they come here, North Korean defectors undergo a three-month adjustment period at Hanawon and are given a rented apartment equivalent to W13 million in housing support and another W6 million to help them settle here (US$1=W1,279). They also get money for job training to obtain certificates or licenses. Community centers run jointly by the government and private groups, called Hana Centers, opened in Seoul, Bucheon, Pocheon and Daegu this year.
Despite this administrative support, defectors continue to feel like outsiders in South Korea. A Unification Ministry spokesman said, "Defectors have difficulties adjusting to South Korean society and culture, but a major reason for the problem is the difficulties they face finding good jobs." The number of unemployed defectors fell from 57.5 percent in 2000 to 32.1 percent in 2007, according to the Korea Peace Institute. But those in work did not have stable jobs, with day labor jobs accounting for 42.6 percent, according to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. By comparison, only 9.2 percent of South Koreans eke out a living from day labor.
The average monthly salary is W937,000, according to the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, equivalent to the minimum wage. There is also criticism that defectors are growing too dependent on government handouts while doing nothing, as competition for menial labor grows more intense with the foreign laborers and ethnic Koreans from China overcrowding the market. "Some North Korean defectors rely on government support money while working part-time since they can't even make W1 million a month working at construction sites," a government official said.
◆ More Training Is Needed
Many defectors are voicing discontent with their lives in South Korea. One said the money given to help them adjust to life here is not enough. "I got W6 million to help me settle but had to give all of that money to my broker," who arranged the escape and journey to South Korea, "and ended up starting life in the South empty-handed." Some women turn to prostitution to pay their brokers. Female defectors have outnumbered male ones since 2002 and accounted for 78 percent of those who came to South Korea last year.
Also, the number of available jobs decreases if arrivals are placed in cities other than Seoul due to a shortage of rental housing in the capital. One defector who was given an apartment outside Seoul said he came back to the capital to live and look for work, subletting his government-provided home to a South Korean family.
Experts stress the need for education after Hanawon. Kim Gwi-ok, a professor at Hansung University, said, "Many North Korean defectors at Hanawon show little interest in the training they get there. They just want to get out as soon as possible. What's more important than the theoretical training they get at Hanawon is practical, hands-on job training." Lee Young-hwan, a researcher at the Seoul-based Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, said, "Another problem is the prevailing view among South Koreans that North Korean defectors are foreigners."