North Korean defectors here say they suffer emotionally whenever tension arises between the two Koreas. "We're dispirited whenever incidents like the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island take place, wondering what South Koreans must think about us. We feel as if we'd committed a crime," said one.
"In the wake of the Cheonan sinking, I told people I'm from China whenever a customer asked me," said a 38-year-old North Korean woman who defected to the South in June 2004 and works as a waitress. She said she was afraid because agitated customers would threaten to attack any North Koreans they met.
"I'm speechless whenever friends ask me why North Korea behaves that way," said another defector, aged 30. "I feel wronged and distressed when they identify me with the North Korean regime although I defected because I hated it."
Youngsters also feel ostracized. Hangyeore Middle and High School, a state-subsidized school in the South exclusively for North Korean refugees, saw three students who had transferred to ordinary schools return immediately after the Cheonan sinking. They could not put up with the bullying they were subjected to. "South Korean students put me into a corner and said, 'Our citizens have been killed by North Koreans like you,'" recalled one of them.
The Pyongyang Folk Art Troupe, which tours the country giving North Korean-themed performances, also suffered the aftermath. The number of performances declined from 160 in 2009 to 130 last year. "Usually summer and autumn are peak seasons. But with performance contracts cancelled because of the sinking of the Cheonan in March and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November, we sustained a loss of W80 million (US$1=W1,083) last year," said troupe leader Pak Mi-gyong. As a consequence, the troupe moved its office from Seoul's prosperous Gangnam district to the more humdrum Youngdeungpo.
"Whenever North Korea commit provocations, the anger that should be aimed at Pyongyang often falls on North Korean defectors," said Kim Myong-song of defector group North Korean Intellectuals Solidarity. "The defectors get hurt by each of these provocations."