Embracing North defectorsA growing number of North Korean defectors who have obtained South Korean citizenship are seeking false refugee status in Europe, causing a diplomatic predicament for Seoul. According to a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade document, some 1,000 North Koreans have sought asylum in Britain since 2004, of which 70 percent have been discovered to have South Korean citizenship.
The British government has demanded South Korea deal with the situation. Norway, too, has caught 20 fake asylum-seekers from North Korea. The Foreign Ministry estimates some 600 North Koreans with South Korean citizenship have been kicked out of Britain and Norway and have nowhere to go.
More and more North Korean defectors who danced with death to flee famine and oppression for a new life of freedom in the South are migrating to other countries in search of jobs.
The North Korean refugee population in the South is growing fast. About 3,000 entered the South last year alone. The Ministry of Unification expects North Koreans with South Korean citizenship will reach 20,000 this month.
Many are packing up to seek a new life in North American, European and Pacific countries. They hide their South Korean citizenship to seek asylum in the West or live under illegal status. It is time we take this matter seriously.
North Korean defectors are provided with housing, job training, education and health benefits to help them settle in the capitalist South Korean society. Yet their leaving suggests they failed to find a future here. Less than half, or 44.9 percent, of North Korean defectors aged 15 years or older have gained employment.
Most of them earn a living doing day-to-day labor. Some 60.2 percent live on basic government allowances. What pains them more is contempt and neglect from South Korean society. Many defectors feel inferior to foreign migrant workers at workplaces and schools.
Some call them scoundrels for fleeing the South after exhausting various benefits at the expense of taxpayers. But we should ask ourselves if we really embraced them with sincerity. The defectors risked their lives to cross the border in hopes of finding a better future. They probably tried their utmost to adapt. There are many North Koreans deported from third countries who cannot return to the South, because they would have to live without the refugee support program. We should offer mercy to these people and encourage them to return home.
The defectors are our citizens and neighbors. They will serve as valuable assets, having lived in both the North and South, after unification. We must embrace and groom them to play an important role in the unification era.