Lessons from the Syrian crisis

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Lessons from the Syrian crisis

Korea can learn so much from the Syrian crisis as our foremost goal is reunification. The direct cause of the Syrian refugees’ migration is the civil war against President Bashar al-Assad and the violent crackdown on protests. As a result, 1.1 million Syrians, about half of the country’s population, are estimated to have become displaced within the country and abroad. The Syrians are fleeing through Greece and Italy and have crossed the Dover Strait to the United Kingdom.

The Syrian crisis can be summarized as tyranny and oppression leading to civil war, consequent destruction of the livelihoods of the people, and the emergence of Islamic State, followed by large-scale escape. Let’s look at North Korea. While Syria and North Korea cannot be compared directly, if sudden change in the North results in large-scale displacement, we don’t have clear solution. According to the Ministry of Unification, 28,000 North Korean defectors entered the South as of June 2015. The number is negligible compared to Korea’s population of 51 million. However, the government budget for assisting defectors is not enough to help them adjust to Korean society. The defector support program was changed when 468 defectors arrived from Vietnam on a chartered plane in 2004. According to a government source, the previous method of offering a 36 million won resettlement grant unconditionally was changed after the mass entry to phased aid for those receiving certifications and vocational training. He added that the new program encourages the defectors to get jobs, but also reflects budget constraints.

If North Korea experiences a sudden change and the government loses control, refugees will first escape to Korea and Japan. If refugees grow in number, Mongolia and Southeast Asia, now parts of the defection route, will be affected. Even if Korea blocks off the border, there is no realistic means to prevent people from coming by boat. And how can we turn away fellow Korean people who choose South Korea or death?

There are more lessons to be learned from Syria. After North Korea’s fall, there is no guarantee that Korea will control the entire peninsula. Recently, Russia sent its military to Syria to fight IS. It is a strategy to help pro-Russian al-Assad and to strengthen Russia’s influence in the region. There is no guarantee that China won’t send troops to North Korea to build a pro-China regime, with the justification of checking on North Korea’s nuclear weapons. While the international community, especially the United States and Japan, would protest, there is no clear way to force China out once they comes in.

We should not assume that a sudden change in the North would bring stability and reunification in the Korean Peninsula. Just as we’ve seen in Syria’s case, the situation may develop into crisis.

The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 17, Page 26

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