No need for specific terms for us

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No need for specific terms for us


“New Dreamers” was chosen as the winner in the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s contest held to create a new name for North Korean defectors. The winning name was selected as it represented North Korean defectors’ hope for new dreams.

The city quietly posted the selection online and did not make a press release, unlike in the beginning of the contest. Initially, there was a plan to request that the Ministry of Unification use the new term, but did not. A Seoul Metropolitan Government official said that changing the term requires a revision of the law and needs to be discussed with the ministry. In order not to cause confusion, the contest was concluded internally.

North Korean defectors learned about the results of the contest and are glad that the choice was not publicized. Park Young-cheol from Musan, North Hamkyong, said there would have been quite a show of resistance if the winning name was made public, adding that a new term should be accepted by the defector community no matter how good the intentions are.

Others question why a new term was needed in the first place. A college student from Hyesan, Yanggang province surnamed Song said that most North Korean defectors live quietly and want to be citizens of the Republic of Korea. He said that as more terms are coined to refer to the defectors, it leads to a greater burden and discrimination.

It was 1962 when a legal term referring to the people who escaped North Korea and defected to South Korea first appeared. They were called “defectors to the South.” In 1978, they were called “defecting warriors.” They were then called “defecting North Korean brothers” in the early ’90s and then “defecting North Korean residents” in 1997. In 2005, the Ministry of Unification coined a new term “Saeteomin,” meaning “new settlers.”

However, some North Korean defectors opposed the term, and the government has refrained from using it since 2008. As a result, the community is, rather confusingly, referred to by many different names.

A fifty-one-year-old surnamed Choi from Yeongcheon, North Pyongan, says that it is unfair to praise defectors as “the unification that came early.”

Director Ahn Chan-il of the World Institute for North Korea Studies, who is the first North Korean defector to obtain a Ph.D., said that a term created out of compassion and sympathy could create stigma as a third-class citizen to the defectors.

If a term is needed for administrative purposes, they should be described as North Korean defectors or escapees. There is no reason to make a fuss about adding a special name that defectors don’t welcome. Anyone can have a new dream regardless of where they are from.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 18, Page 33

*The author is a national news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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