A North Korean legislator?The number of North Korean defectors to South Korea topped 23,000 as of 2011. All of them risked their lives to flee the despotic regime in Pyongyang in search of freedom, hoping their inexorable pain would be compensated for when they arrived here. Yet there is a huge gap between their wishes and the realities awaiting them. Aside from a precious few with outstanding backgrounds, such as high officials - who are guaranteed financial assistance and decent careers by the government - most defectors experience a hellish life from the moment they set foot in South Korea. Even though our government provides them with various support to help them resettle, find a place to live, get a job or an education, those are minimum requirements for survival in the South.
As a result, most defectors become second-class citizens in the South. Although they speak the same language as South Koreans, it still sounds weird to us. It also takes a long time for them to comprehend the words we use in everyday life. So they experience a tremendous amount of difficulty finding jobs here, not to speak of frequent dismissals when they manage to find employment.
Meanwhile, their children become easy victims of bullying by their South Korean peers in schools. They are ostracized and treated as outcasts because of our children’s animosity, ignorance and bias against the North. North Korean kids fall prey to discrimination perhaps more blatant than the children of multiethnic families. Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, says more than half of the North Korean defectors are living tough lives as veritable social outcasts entirely separated from South Korean society.
It will certainly be difficult to resolve the problem in a single stroke. To achieve the lasting stability of our society, however, we should exert efforts to minimize the problems defectors face. An effective way is to encourage them to have a political say in our society. This week, more than 40 North Korean defectors participated in the launch ceremony of a new political party - tentatively named “National Thought” - as founding members.
But it is almost impossible for them to become lawmakers on their own. So here’s a modest suggestion: We hope the ruling Grand National Party or the opposition Democratic Unity Party will nominate a defector, one of our brothers or sisters from the North, as a candidate for legislators who are elected according to the proportional representation system.