Don’t leave defectors behind

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Don’t leave defectors behind

A great number of women from North Korea who flee their country in search of freedom and a better life end up in the sex trade in South Korea to make a living here. The defectors go into prostitution because retraining and settlement policies as well as social conditions here have not been sufficient to help them find a decent job and new life in South Korea.

Of the 29,543 North Koreans who came to the South as of last month, 20,896, or more than 70 percent, are female. Nearly 90 percent of them were unskilled, without education beyond middle school, and had been unemployed or working as temporary workers in North Korea. Half of them seek jobs at restaurants or factories and earn less than 1.5 million won ($1,300) a month. They fall into the temptation of prostitution because many of them have to send money back to their families in North Korea or pay off the debt they made to flee North Korea.

The lives of North Korean defectors must be tougher with the local economy doing poorly in recent years. There are many programs to help North Koreans in resettlement, retraining and starting a business. Still, the government and civilian groups need to do more. The faster that North Korean defectors settle and find life content in the South, the quicker and easier reunification can occur.

Helping them out should be regarded as a long-term investment in reunification. Reunification could take place suddenly, but integration of the people takes a long time. Germany is still not fully united even after the East and West became one for almost 30 years.

How well or poorly defectors assimilate into our society would suggest what we need to know, fix and prepare for in a unified Korea.

Learning what is necessary to help defectors assimilate faster and more easily to a democratic and capitalist society will later become a strength for our society. Incentives should be given to the private and corporate sector to take interest in and engage North Koreans.

The government should also play a more active role in connecting North Koreans to various sectors in society. There is no future for a unified Korea with one out of five defectors regretting having left North Korea and coming to the South.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 28, Page 34
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