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Defectors work more, make less

But most are content with their lives, jobs, newest survey shows

Feb 10,2015
North Korean defectors in the South are working longer hours and receive lower wages, according to a recent survey into their lives. The report, released Monday, showed that 67 percent had expressed satisfaction with their lives in the South, and fewer said that they had experienced discrimination here.

The Ministry of Unification and the Korea Hana Foundation, a support group for North Korean defectors, conducted the survey, interviewing North Korean defectors over 15 who entered South Korea before December 2013.

Of 23,141 eligible defectors, 12,777 answered the poll, which took place from July until September. It is the most recent in a series of annual surveys since 2011.

Another survey conducted by the same organizations questioned 744 North Korean youngsters between the ages of 8 and 18, as well as 950 children of defectors who were born in third countries on their way to South Korea.

Among them, 1,111 replied. Additionally, further research polling 1,785 defectors over age 13 was conducted as a sample survey.

The latest survey of the 12,777 defectors showed that the employment situation for defectors here has improved slightly, though they continue to struggle.

The employment rate for defectors increased to 53.1 percent in 2014, up by 1.7 percentage points from the previous year, while the unemployment rate decreased, from 9.7 percent in 2013 to 6.2 percent in 2014.

The latest employment rate for defectors is 7.7 percentage points lower than the Korean average of 60.8 percent, while the unemployment rate is 3 percentage points higher than the Korean average of 3.2 percent.

Among those with jobs, most of them are working without employment security. According to the survey, 54.1 percent of them are working on a one-year contract, while 20.4 percent are working daily-wage jobs. The figure is still an improvement from the 2013 survey, where 51.5 percent were employed on a one-year contract, while 20.7 percent were receiving daily wages for their labor.

Defectors were also working longer hours than South Koreans, the report said. They worked an average 47 hours per week, 2.9 hours longer than the 44.1 hours per week the average South Korean worked.

Defectors who responded to the survey said they earned 1.4 million won ($1,300) per month in 2014, up by 57,000 won from their average monthly pay in 2013. That amount is about 760,000 won lower than the average 2.2 million won a South Korean worker receives.

The survey, however, stressed that income disparity must be taken into account, considering the difference in the average number of years on the job. In 2013, defectors had employment records in South Korea dating back an average of 19 months, while most South Korean workers had an average of 67 months in their chosen careers.

The survey added that government policies to support employment among defectors have had some noticeable impact. A special program to help defectors find work at midsize companies and expanded vocational training at the second Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees, known as the House of Unity - a shelter designed to help defectors adjust to life in South Korea - were credited to the improvement.

In 2013, 35 percent of the defectors surveyed received government financial aid to meet the minimum standard of living, though that figure dropped to 32.3 percent in 2014.

The 2014 survey showed that 67.4 percent of the defectors said they are satisfied with their lives in the South. It remained nearly similar to the figure in 2012 at 67.4 percent.

In the latest survey, those who expressed satisfaction attributed it largely to their employment and economic situation. In the report, 47.4 percent said they were content with their lives in the South because they could work a job they wanted, while another 42.3 percent said their economic situation was better.

Additionally, 74.7 percent of the defectors said they had not experienced any discrimination over the past year because of their status, though 25.3 percent acknowledged that they were still mistreated because they came from North Korea.

Of those, 68.6 percent said they were discriminated or insulted because of the difference in cultural communication, while 42.6 percent said the public was generally negative toward defectors. Another 11 percent said they were discriminated against due to negative media reports.

The survey also showed that defectors are particularly interested in their children’s education, and 76 percent said they want their children to complete at least a four-year university education. Nearly 68 percent of the defectors said they are satisfied with the education system - far higher than the general public’s 49.7 percent.

Of the defectors, 59.1 percent said the cost of education was a financial burden, lower than 69.3 percent of South Koreans, perhaps due to government financial aid. While 4.6 percent of the defectors said the cost of tuition was difficult, 31.6 percent of the South Korean public said tuition was too high.

The additional survey with the youngsters showed that they were particularly satisfied with the South’s education system, although many of them said they were having difficulty catching up with the curricula.

According to the survey, 69.1 percent asked for extra tutoring.

Among the young people, 66.4 percent said they want to graduate from a four-year university, similar to South Korean students.

The poll also stated that 58.4 percent of the young defectors were hesitant about identifying themselves, up by 4 percentage points from the previous survey in 2012.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]







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