Most North Korean defectors arrive in South Korea deep in debt to brokers who smuggle them out through China and Southeast Asia. The brokers' fee is some W6-7 million (US$1=W1,094).
A defector in his 40s, who arrived here last year, said he has been suffering economic hardship here in South Korea. "I was given a W6 million initial resettlement subsidy from the government, but I had to start my new life here penniless because I paid the broker's fee right after I left Hanawon," the government resettlement center, he said.
Despite knowing of their situation, the government says it cannot increase the budget for resettlement. The direct cost for settling defectors the government bears amounts to at least W264 billion every year, or W105 million per defector assuming 2,500 arrive on annual average.
Each defector gets W6 million as initial subsidy, W16 million in employment subsidy over a three-year period, and W13 million for housing.
It costs the Korea Land and Housing Corporation about W131 million on average to build a rental home for each defector. Some 1,351 rental homes were provided last year.
The government will find it difficult to keep giving each defector more than W100 million if a mass exodus occurs after any sudden event in the North such as regime collapse or natural disaster. Rental homes are already in short supply, and about one-third of defectors have to settle in the provinces due to the housing shortage in the Seoul metropolitan area.
An LH executive said, "Many low-income earners have been waiting for a long time for a chance to live in rental houses in the Seoul metropolitan area, so we can't allocate them only to defectors."
"If tens of thousands of defectors arrive each year, they could find themselves uncared-for like displaced people," warned Chae Myung-min of a support center for defectors. "The government needs to raise a new fund or formulate a separate plan to prepare for this."