New foundation to help defectors
With 300 North Korean refugees, lawmakers and other distinguished guests present, the South Korean Ministry of Unification launched an official support foundation for North Korean refugees yesterday in Yeouido, Seoul.
“Preparing for unification is a national task that we are all facing,” said Vice Unification Minister Um Jong-sik in a congratulatory speech. “The launch of the support foundation today is a very important turning point in our support policy for North Korean refugees.”
The foundation - which doesn’t yet have an English name but is translated to North Korean Refugee Support Foundation from Korean - was started by the Ministry of Unification in order to better accommodate the needs of North Korean refugees after the number of those who had fled to South Korea reached more than 20,000 for the first time earlier this month. North Korean refugees who cross over to the South will receive support finding jobs and adjusting to a whole different form of society.
“The milestone of 20,000 North Korean refugees shows us that unification of the Korean Peninsula is not far off. What is most important is your willpower,” Um said, nodding to the North Korean refugees at the event. Um also promising that the foundation would act as a bridge between the country, the people and North Korean refugees.
Kim Il-joo, chairman of the foundation, told the JoongAng Ilbo that the group would make efforts to research the current status of refugees living in the South to help adjust to their new surroundings, which has been a key problem for the South Korean government over the years.
Kim, 77, also came from the north, having crossed during the Korean War. He said that he feels like a father figure to the refugees, whose happiness he believes will be the key to success in the future unification of the Korean Peninsula.
“The refugees that come to South Korea call their families in secret, telling them that they live in apartments with hot running water,” said Kim. “Their voices enter the North Korean society, informing the North Korean people of life in South Korea.”
Kim was selected as the first chairman of the foundation because he was head of an aid association for refugees that formed the building blocks for this foundation. He also received praise from refugees and the government alike for leading the aid association without many glitches.
The foundation is comprised of 57 workers with a budget of 24.8 billion won ($22 million) for next year. After preparations during the remainder of this year, the foundation will start operations in January.
By Christine Kim, Lee Young-jong [firstname.lastname@example.org]