He’s not heavyThe number of North Korean refugees in South Korea is expected to reach 10,000 at the end of February. What is more, high-profile personalities have joined the flow of refugees including the former secretary of the Workers’ Party, Hwang Jang-Yup. There has also been an increase in escapes by entire families. Both quantitatively and qualitatively, a change is occurring to which South Koreans must pay attention.
Suppose the current trend continues. Before long we will have 100,000 North Korean refugees. An attempt at mass escape might take place as well. The organizers of the Beijing Olympic Games have been advised to be ready for such an eventuality. If these predictions are realized, Korea is likely to encounter an uncomfortable economic and social predicament. Calculated responses on a national scale are required to deal with the social problems refugees cause.
Yet the reality gives us cause for dismay. Most North Korean refugees fail to adjust to South Korean society. One report indicates about 30 percent of North Korean refugees are unemployed and that most of those who do hold down jobs are only working part-time or have temporary jobs. Many of them have lost their resettlement funds to scam refugee brokers who deceived them during their escape. Discrimination towards North Korean refugees also creates a big issue in South Korean society. A governmental plan to build an alternative school for North Korean refugees had to be cancelled because of opposition from local residents. In consequence, more and more refugees from the North leave South Korea for a third country such as the United States. This is a sad story.
An active response is urged to deal with the North Korean refugee issue in our society. The government should make sure that adjustment programs are more practical with better vocational training. Practical alternatives must be introduced such as reducing the amount in the initial settlement fund while offering higher sums in proportion to a refugee’s period of continuous employment. A concerted effort from the government and civil society is also required to eliminate discrimination toward North Korean refugees. In the film “Boy’s Town,” Spencer Tracy formed a community to help homeless boys. Its motto was “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” When it comes to North Korea, we may need the same attitude.