Don’t ignore their pain

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Don’t ignore their pain

 The boomerang defection of a North Korean on the eastern front rings alarm bells. His desperate recrossing of the border reveals many problems such as loose guarding of the border and management systems for North Korean defectors in South Korea.

Our military cannot excuse its failed guarding of the frontline no matter what. The Ministry of National Defense must hold commanders of the 22nd Infantry Division accountable for the incident. They must apologize, promise to not allow a repetition and find effective ways to prevent such crossings. It is not a coincidence that such incidents took place many times under the Moon Jae-in administration, which demolished guard posts on the frontline to herald the arrival of peace on the Korean Peninsula after its military agreement with North Korea in 2018.

The problem does not end with loose guarding. The Moon administration must see if North Korean defectors are living well in the South and if the government provides enough help for them to survive. According to data from the Ministry of Unification, 30 defectors have gone back to North Korea since 2012. The real number is probably even more as the reported number was based on announcements by North Korean media. Some of the defectors who returned to the North were likely recruited as part of its propaganda machine. Others may have returned after carrying out stealthy operations against the South since their defection. But most of them returned because of hardships they faced here.

Authorities handling the defectors should take responsibility. The defector who returned Saturday often pleaded for his return to North Korea. Any yet, a report by a police station taking care of him was ignored by an agency in the upper command. Under such circumstances, who could blame the North’s use of barbed wire fences on the frontline as a route to penetrate the South for secret missions?

A more fundamental problem is the government’s weak support system for people settling here. Aside from a fixed amount of money they receive after finishing an education course at Hanawon — a settlement support center for defectors — they must survive on their own. Despite the need to help them settle in an ever-competitive society, the government’s aid remains the same.

The more an administration prioritizes inter-Korean exchanges over national security, the more hardships the defectors experience. The Moon administration did not pay heed to the tragic deaths of a female defector and her son in 2019. The government must ask if they encouraged the defectors to return. It must not ignore the pain they experience after crossing the border and risking their lives.
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