[EDITORIALS]Dealing with defectors

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[EDITORIALS]Dealing with defectors

About 460 North Korean defectors will be arriving in a group in South Korea soon. Until now, defectors came individually or in groups of 20 or so. This is the first time that hundreds will be coming in together, and it is alarming.
This incident clearly signals a turning point in South Korea’s policy towards North Korean defectors. Until now, South Korea has recognized the existence of refugees from the North but has dealt with this sensitive issue quietly, lest the issue dampen inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation efforts.
South Korea has also kept this matter under wraps for the safety and human rights of these defectors. That is why civic groups helping North Korean defectors have criticized the “silent policy,” calling it a “passive diplomatic policy that turns a blind eye to defectors until they become an issue.”
Experts say there are an estimated 100,000 North Korean defectors in China and elsewhere in the region, and around 150 come into the South every month. Considering the poor human rights situation and economic conditions in the North, the current large exodus of defectors from the North seems likely to continue.
The problem is that our society is not prepared to deal with the defectors. The training and education center for North Korean defectors who want to settle in the South is saturated, leading to measures like shortening the six-month adaptation program to two months.
The reality is that there are no post-settlement measures to deal with North Korean defectors. To take in such a large number of defectors requires an increase in the budget and facilities, and it is doubtful that makeshift measures will be an adequate solution to the problem that defectors pose.
It would be desirable not to have any more defectors, but until the North’s isolation ends and its human rights and economic conditions improve, the numbers are likely to increase.
The defector problem will remain an international issue in the region for some time. That is why the government and the international community must come up with common measures to deal with defectors.
In the long term, we must try to bring North Korea into the international community and help it with economic aid so that the defector problem can be settled for good.
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