Resettlement Program for Defectors Needs Total Overhaul

      March 26, 2015 12:58

      The most pressing issue for North Korean defectors is speedy resettlement in South Korean society. The Unification Ministry operates a resettlement center called Hanawon, where defectors undergo a three-month training program.

      But many North Korean defectors are unhappy with the training. One defector told the Chosun Ilbo, "I learned more on my own in a week in the outside world than what I was taught during my three months at Hanawon." Another defector said, "At Hanawon, we're taught that we could make W3-5 million a month if we work hard. We end up with false hopes that we will be able to bring our remaining family members over from the North if we work for two to three months, but those dreams are dashed once we encounter reality."

      In other words, Hanawon is not doing its job properly.

      The biggest problems are the training programs and the people who teach them. Defectors take around 90 different classes at Hanawon in subjects ranging from lessons designed to give them psychological comfort and living tips to job searching and some language training. The program does includes some potentially useful lessons like ordering food and shopping in supermarkets, but most are textbook-based, while hands-on learning opportunities and job training are minimal.

      Hundreds of defectors are packed into one classroom, making it hard for them to absorb what is being taught. And only six of the 90 teaching staff at Hanawon are North Korean defectors who are familiar with the dialect and culture of the North. Many classes therefore have no bearing on what defectors need or want.

      It has been 16 years since Hanawon opened its doors, but it still gets poor marks from students. That must mean that there are fundamental problems in the way it is run.

      The government will have to overhaul Hanawon completely, because the future of reunification depends on the success or failure of its training programs. North Korean defectors and experts have consistently called for defectors who have succeeded in adjusting to life in the South to be given a role.

      The former West Germany entrusted groups of East Germans with helping others from the East settle in the West. Seoul should consider the same approach and come up with homestay programs for defectors in conjunction with civic groups that help defectors. The solution cannot be that hard to find if the government just for one minute looks at it from the defectors' point of view.

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