More N.Korean Defectors Turn to Crime

The number of crimes committed by North Korean defectors in South Korea is rising dramatically. The offenses range from real estate and insurance fraud to drug dealing and the sex trade, and the victims are often other North Korean defectors.

The number of defectors is expected to reach 25,000 by the end of the year.

According to the [South] Korean Institute of Criminology, 899 defectors were nabbed between 1998 and January of 2007, accounting for 10 percent of the total 8,885 living in the South until that time. The crime rate among defectors is more than twice as high as the country's overall rate of 4.3 percent.

Defectors are also five times more likely to fall victim to crime than others. More than 30 percent of women from the North turned to prostitution as they tried to settle in the South, according to one study.

Defectors are especially vulnerable to crime because they start from scratch in the South. A study by the North Korean Refugees Foundation on 8,299 defectors in January this year showed that some 80 percent earn an average of less than W1.5 million (US$1=W1,088) a month, with one in three making less than W1 million. Only 2 percent made more than W3.01 million, which is what a university graduate can expect straight out of school.

Unemployment among defectors stands at 12 percent, more than three times the overall rate of 3.7 percent.

Only a small handful of North Korean defectors succeed financially in the South. Many others easily fall prey to scams promising fortunes as they have very little street savvy. Highly educated defectors often join criminal gangs.

Once they enter South Korea, defectors are given W6 million in two separate tranches to help them settle, plus W13 million to help them find a home. They are also entitled to W22.4 million as an incentive to find work, but they must get a job to get the money.

After resettlement training at the Hanawon Center, most defectors start life in rented flats and with W3 million in cash the government gives them. But a large number of defectors have to use the settlement money to pay the brokers who got them out.

Even though they have to start life in an alien society empty-handed, many have to send money back to support their families back in the North. "Most North Korean defectors lack the skills that our society needs and have a hard time finding work," said a Unification Ministry official. "This exposes many of them to crime." The official added that defectors need more thorough training in adjusting to life in the South.

englishnews@chosun.com / Nov. 13, 2012 08:21 KST