South Korea’s Government Policy on North Korean Defectors


Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
YES



Table of Contents


Outline
Appendix : New York Times Articles on Karl Lueger



First Draft (as of Oct. 13th 2009) . . . go to Teacher's comment

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. Understanding North Korean defectors
II.a. South Korean terms describing North Korean defectors
II.b. Cause of defection
III. South Korean government policy (-1993): The Age of Gwisoon Yongsa, the Heroes
III.a. Before 1962
III.b. 1962 Law No. 2715: Special Protection for Patriots and North Korean Defectors
III.c. 1974 Special Law on Protection for Patriots and Others
III.d. 1978 Law No. 3156: Special Compensation for Brave North Korean Defectors
IV. South Korean government policy (1993-Present)
IV.a. Changing times and the dilemma
IV.b. 1993 Law No. 4568: Protection of North Korean Defector Compatriots
IV.c. 1997 Law No. 5259: Protection and Settlement Aid for North Korean Defectors
IV.d. Recent changes
IV.d.1. 1999 to 2000
IV.d.2. 2004 to 2005
IV.d.3. 2007
IV.d.4. 2009
V. Government institute and organization for settlement
V.a. Hanawon
V.b. Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors
VI. Status Quo
VI.a. Number of defectors in South Korea
VI.b. Response from North Korean defectors
VI.c. Criticism and suggested alternatives on the current policy
VII. Conclusion
VIII. Notes
IX. Bibliography

I. Introduction
            North Korea has been in the international spotlight for various reasons. It is a dictatorship that goes under the classification of a single-party communist nation, despite its recent attempts to incorporate few elements of market economy. It has also shocked the international society by developing nuclear weapons and rampantly abusing human rights. The shock became even greater in degree as North Korea started testing its nuclear missiles in 2006 and resumed the attempt in 2009 (1). Citizens in North Korea live under constant fear of dying in poverty and being persecuted. The situation has led many of its desperate citizens to escape the land, even if it means risking their lives.
            The hopeful venture, however, often proved to be a “bitter taste of paradise” for the North Korean defectors (2). Once they escaped from the troubles in the original environment, they were immediately faced with new, unfamiliar, and often harsh problems in the process of settlement and adaptation to a completely new environment. Though the situation is not as cruel as that of China where North Korean defectors are automatically repatriated upon discovery, the case stands even for South Korea?one of the most desired destinations for North Korean defectors. The issue of North Korean defectors has a long history in South Korea, and especially with recent dramatic increase in the number of defectors, finding an adequate approach to the issue is becoming a great challenge for the South Korean government. This paper, thus, deals the historical development of government policy towards North Korean defectors with a focus on the legal measures and government institutes.

II. Understanding North Korean defectors

II.a. South Korean terms describing North Korean defectors
            Many words have been used in South Korea to describe North Korean defectors, reflecting the various perspectives the public has on the issue. They can be categorized according to the intention behind the term.
            The first category consists of terms that show a specific perspective towards North Korea. The viewpoint is usually negative as such terms were used most frequently during the Korean War when hostility between the two countries was explicit. One example would be wolnamgwisoonja (Korean: 월남귀순자), in which the word gwisoon refers to defection. The term can be directly translated into “North Korean Defector” and directly reflects the tension as the concept of yielding and surrendering is brought up. The term does not, however, represent a hostile view towards the defectors themselves; it was used in a time where defectors were treated as heroes for defying North Korea. Another example is jayoobukhanin (Korean: 자유북한인), which can be directly translated into “Free North Korean”. The term was created when North Korean defectors began to speak up for their rights to freedom in South Korea. Thus, the term can be more accurately described as “North Korean Freedom Seekers” and represents the view that defectors escaped North Korea due to its lack of respect for freedom and human rights (3). Terms belonging to the first category were used to portray North Korea as an inhumane enemy and are not used as often in the status quo.
            The second category consists of terms that show integration efforts within the South Korean society. The intention is to discourage prejudice and discrimination against North Korean defectors. One example would be bukhanchoolshin namhanijooja (Korean: 북한출신 남한이주자), or “Migrants from the North”. This term was used to encourage greater acceptance by focusing on how these people were simply migrants, not any different from an ordinary South Korean citizen. It further attempted to foster civilian movements for integration by ridding of prejudice. Another example is saeteomin (Korean: 새터민), or “New Settlers”. This term was officially selected in 2005 over the previously used term talbukja (Korean: 탈북자) after a national survey conducted by the Ministry of Unification. Similar to the other terms in this category, saeteomin focuses more on settlement than on the place from which the defectors originated (4). Terms belonging to the second category, thus, tend to be more neutral in its stance against North Korea. In fact, the term saeteomin was discouraged from 2008 as a response to the opposition from North Korean defectors who believed that the term lacked representation of their political view against North Korea (5).
            The third category consists of terms that call for further recognition of the North Korean defector issue. These terms are often used to describe defectors abroad ? such as those in China and Russian Federation ? in order to call for international protection. Hence, the terms focus on the desperate situation in North Korea that drove people out of the nation, and how defectors live in constant fear of not being recognized in the host countries and of being sent back for persecution. One example is bukhannanmin (Korean: 북한난민), or “North Korean Refugee”. The term is interchangeable with bukhanshikliangnanmin (Korean: 북한식량난민), or “North Korean Food Refugee”, as poverty and food crisis have become leading causes of escape. Another example is bukhanshilhyangyoomin (Korean: 북한실향유민), or “Externally Displaced Person from North Korea”. If the term refugee focuses more on the destitute they had to escape from and are currently living in, this term places greater spotlight on how these people qualify as political refugees as they had no choice but to escape in order to escape brutal persecution (6). These terms are used more in describing the issue at an international level, not necessarily within South Korea. However, they do represent the effort of the South Korean government in providing recognition and aid for defectors all around the world.
            All three categories represent the various perspectives from which the South Korean government approaches the issue of North Korean defectors. Some terms still are widely used as opposed to others that have faded away with changing times.

II.b. Cause of defection
            The cause of defection has changed greatly throughout the years, and this change has worked as a significant influence on the government policies. The wave of defectors can be classified into three stages: pre-war and war defectors, early post-war defectors, and recent defectors.
            For the pre-war and war defectors, the main cause of defection was political. At the brink of war, those who supported democracy moved in massive numbers to the South. The estimated number of defectors in the pre-war period ranges between 456,000 and 829,000. After the war broke out on June 25, 1950, people continued to move down South with an estimated number of 400,000 to 650,000 from 1950 to 1953 when the war ended. The minimum estimate comes down to approximately 900,000 or 10 percent of the entire population having fled the North before and during the war (7).
            The second stage, the early post-war period, is marked with only a small number of North Korean defectors?on average, five to ten people per year. With the Korean War now over, the number of people moving down to the South started to decrease significantly. One cause of such decrease in incentive was North Korea’s relative economic prosperity. In fact, a large number of Japanese Koreans actually moved up to the North in the early ‘60s. This trend continued until early ‘90s. The main incentive for those who did leave North Korea was political, and most of them were members of the elite class with the chance to leave North Korea. Defectors in this stage included diplomats and government employees who decided to flee while on their duty oversees, pilots who chose to fly to the South on their fighter jets, and high-ranking military officials who were able to get past the guards with the extensive information about the DMZ (8). An example of this period would be Chong Nak-hyok, former North Korean air force lieutenant who flew down to the South in 1960 (9).
            The situation takes a dramatic turn for the recent defectors whose main incentive lies in socioeconomic factors. With the end of the Cold War came the fall of communist regimes. Especially critical to North Korea was the fall of Soviet Union, its major partner in barter trade, in 1991. North Korean economy began to fell dramatically. This economic downfall was soon accompanied by years of famine, starving at least 1 million citizens to the death. Considering that the population only amounted to about 20 million then, the situation was rapidly getting out of control and only turning worse (10). By 1995, the food distribution system, the one and only way through which citizens receive food, went practically defunct. According to Tony Hall, a United States House member who visited North Korea in November, 2000, crop yields fell by half in just a year and food supply was short of demands by approximately 1.1 million tons (11).
            Countries surrounding North Korea also were a contributing factor to the will to escape. With disappointment in their failed system, citizens of North Korea were attracted to the relative prosperity and higher standards of living in neighboring countries such as South Korea (12). As Soviet Union was in chaos with its transformation to the Russian Federation, it became a land of opportunity for North Koreans who had given up on defection fearing repatriation (13).
            Thus, from the mid-90s, most defectors came from far less privileged groups (14). The increase in the number of defectors contributed to an even greater increase as people began to hear of successful stories of escapade. With increased defection, a greater variety of escape methods were developed. This again encouraged many North Koreans to flee, including those leaving in the fear of punishment after committing a crime within North Korea (15).
            The Ministry of Unification, the department currently in charge of North Korean defectors, conducted a research to investigate the recent causes of defection. The following chart is the final product up to 2004, with the difficulty of survival being the leading cause of defection.

Figure 1 : Recent Cause of Defection (contains no data)

III. South Korean government policy (-1993): The Age of Gwisoon Yongsa, the Heroes
            The first wave of government policy can be described as the Age of Gwisoon Yongsa (Korean: 귀순용사), or the Age of Brave Defectors. The word yongsa refers to a hero or a brave warrior, and is an honorable term often associated war veterans in Korea as in the case of the Korean War Veterans Memorial, hangukjunchamjunyongsaginyumbi (Korean: 한국전참전용사기념비) (17). This age is marked by the heroism with which South Korea associated with the North Korean defectors.

III.a. Before 1962
            Before 1962, there was no official policy or legislation on North Korean defectors. Military security agencies took responsibility for undertaking investigations and taking care of North Korean defectors (18). As this was a time when most defectors came from the privileged elite class in North Korea, they were awarded with respect and honor. Accepting North Korean defectors was a natural procedure as the government had constantly asserted itself as the only entity with legitimate authority over the entire Korean peninsula. Technically, under this claim, all North Koreans were citizens of South Korea. Thus, from the moment of arrival in South Korea, everyone was given the full rights as a citizen (19).
            In this period, defectors offered information and devices to the South Korean government and received prize money as a reward. The rewards were generous as the defectors were mostly from the high ranks of the society and had much to offer. No Kum-Sok is a good example to illustrate this system. No was a 21-year-old air force senior lieutenant of North Korea when he decided to fly to the South on September 21, 1953. He came in his MiG-15, which was the most advanced fighter plane in the Communist bloc. Hence, the device he brought was considered a great plus to South Korea, and he was given $100,000 and the right to reside in the United States as a reward (20). The bonus he received for his defection was an exorbitant amount at the time.

III.b. 1962 Law No. 2715: Special Protection for Patriots and North Korean Defectors
            Gukgayugongja mit wolnamgwisoonja teukbyulwonhobub (Korean: 국가유공자 및 월남귀순자 특별원호법), or Special Protection for Patriots and North Korean Defectors, was enacted in April 16, 1962, as law no. 2715 (21). It was the first official policy that the South Korean government took towards North Korean defectors.
            The official term used for the 1962 law was wolnamgwisoonja (Korean: 월남귀순자), or North Korean defectors. In this law, North Korean defectors were set as an equal to patriots, sharing the same advantages given to those who have made major contributions to the nation. The purpose of the policy at this point was to reward and honor patriots who chose South Korea over North Korea and provided valuable information (22).
            Under this law, defectors were required to go through one year of investigation (23). The investigation was conducted by military security agencies and wonhochu (Korean: 원호처) of the Ministry of National Defense, the department responsible for North Korean defector affairs (24). Wonhochu, currently known as the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs, was established as a central administrative institute in 1962 under the authority of the prime minister. It was created with the purpose of managing the service for subjects of military protection such as patriots and their bereaved family and North Korean defectors (25).
            The settlement money was provided under a ranking system where defectors were classified into three different ranks. The first-class received 1 million won; the second-class, 0.7 million won; and the third-class 0.5 million won. Though the amount may not seem extravagant from a more modern perspective, the amount of money given was massive considering how the Korean economy used to be one of the worst in the world around this time. As defectors already received generous grants of money, they were not given borogum (Korean: 보로금), or additional rewards (26).
            Defectors also received other forms of support for settlement. Residential support was provided in the form of having priority for the purchase of government funded houses. Educational support was given for both the defectors and the children they gave birth in South Korea. For the defectors themselves, the government paid for regular school tuitions and education funds up to college. For the children of the defectors, the government paid only up to high school. Employment support was established through a quota system. The government mandated all businesses bigger than the standard set by local governments to employ North Korean defectors and patriots. The quota went up to 3 percent of the employees. Special employment options were also provided for jobs in the government, the government enterprises, and the military. Additional aid for living was provided for the disabled. Medical service was provided for all (27).
            There was no settlement education under this law, but job training was provided as a means of self-support. At this point, there was no loaning service either (28).
            With the 1962 law, North Korean defectors were considered and treated as heroes. As a result, every defector was given generous packages of aid?great lumps of money and exceptional benefits in the society (29). In a sense, they maintained their privileged class even after moving to the South.

III.c. 1974 Special Law on Protection for Patriots and Others
            Gukgayugongja deung teukbyulwonhobub (Korean: 국가유공자 등 특별원호법), the 1974 Special Law on Protection for Patriots, was enacted in December 24, 1974 (30). It was essentially the 1962 law itself with minor changes (31). One would be the way in which the law has been renamed. Previously, the law was named specifically for patriots and North Korean defectors, but with the change, defectors are no longer explicitly mentioned. This does not necessarily mean that the South Korean view towards North Korean defectors took a negative turn as the law to follow begins to label defectors as heroes. One possible explanation could be that the law intended to become more inclusive by not designated two specific subject groups but opening up with the more abstract concept of “Others”.

III.d. 1978 Law No. 3156: Special Compensation for Brave North Korean Defectors
            The 1978 law wolnamgwisoonyongsa teukbyulbosangbub (Korean: 월남귀순용사특별보상법), or the Special Compensation for Brave North Korean Defectors, was enacted in December 6, 1978, as law no. 3156 (32).
            The term to note in this law is wolnamgwisoonyongsa (Korean: 월남귀순용사), the brave North Korean defectors. The word yongsa represents courage and bravery, expressing the respect South Korean society had for the defectors (33). The term also represents the purpose of this law, which was government propaganda of democracy. The South Korean government’s intention was to spread the respect for people who have actively defied the North Korean system (34).
            The department in charge continued to be wonhochu. The name, however, changed in 1984 to the current name, gukga bohoonchu (Korean: 국가보훈처), or the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs (35).
            The settlement money was now given in a more systemized manner. The amount of payment depended on the rank in North Korea and the value of information provided- the two main characteristics that defined the value of defectors at this time period (36). The payment was given in gold as opposed to cash because defectors were unfamiliar with the market economy and did not find cash money trustworthy (37). The amount ranged from 1,900 g to 14,500 g. Additional award money was given in accordance to the value of device brought from the North. This ranged from 10 g to 14,500 g of gold (38).
            Defectors received free housing with a minimum of 0.012253 acres. Policies on educational support were a continuation of the previous system. Employment benefits were increased: every company with more than 16 employees was required by law to employ 3 to 8 percent of their workforce with North Korean defectors and patriots. This employment benefit applied not only to the defectors but also their children (39). A total of five people per family were eligible for such employment benefits (40). Special employment conditions were maintained, but became stronger as firing North Korean defectors was restricted. Additional aid for living was expanded to include the poor, with the service for disabled still in existence. Medical service also continued to be provided (41).
            No settlement education was provided, and job training was still provided but was not required. The 1978 law began a system of loaning for the North Korean defectors that was equal to that provided for patriots (42).
            Government policy under the 1978 law was the peak of defector heroes. They were treated with respect and easily raised to a privileged status. Yi Ung-p’y?ng’s story provides a deeper understanding of how much the defectors benefited. Yi was a pilot who defected in 1983 on his MiG-19 fighter plane. He was given 1.2 billion won as an award, which was approximately 480 times the annual salary of an average citizen in South Korea then (43). However, as much as the period from 1978 to 1993 marked the climax of government support for defectors in terms of the generous rewards, it also marked the end of the Age of Gwisoon Yongsa.

IV. South Korean government policy (1993-Present)
            The second wave of government policy, which includes the present policies as well, is more closely related to the North-South relationship and the fragile balance within the divided nation.

IV.a. Changing times and the dilemma
            The situation took a clear turn in the early ‘90s. With the economic downfall of North Korea and the devastation there within, the composition of North Korean defectors went under a dramatic change?from one where the great majority came from the elite class to one where the great majority became the poor and underprivileged class of North Korea. With the number of defectors on a significant increase, the issue of North Korean defectors placed the South Korean government in a dilemma (44).
            On one hand, the North Korean defectors are a burden. South Korea has started to make efforts to foster peaceful cooperation among the two divided nations, and this works negatively for the defectors in two ways. One, openly encouraging defection could easily undermine the efforts for peace and jeopardize the stability in North Korea. This explains why recent administrations have been taking stances different from those of the past. Two, North Korean defectors were not as valuable as in the past. North Korea was not necessarily an enemy, but became a neighbor to converse with and there was no need to shower defectors with rewards for the information they brought back from the North. The information now has become more a social asset to better understand the situation in the North than a military asset to use against North Korea. In fact, both the official and public attitude towards defectors changed, and the view that they were needy outsiders having difficulty in adjusting to South Korea began to prevail (45).
            On the other hand, however, throughout the years, South Korea had always claimed to have the only legitimate authority over the entire Korean peninsula and accepted every defector as a citizen with the hope of a future “one Korea”. To rebuke this stance would be undermining its unification principles and also contradicting the Constitution which specifically defines South Korea as the only legitimate government in the Korean peninsula (46).
            The South Korean government is trapped in a dilemma where it is squeezed between a more favorable North-South relationship and a stronger support for the rights of defectors and North Korean citizens. The decision is a difficult one to make, and so far, most Presidents have avoided making choices by going with a policy of quiet diplomacy where defectors are silently discouraged without explicit admittance from the South Korean government (47).

IV.b. 1993 Law No. 4568: Protection of North Korean Defector Compatriots
            Marking the turn in stance was gwisoonbukhandongpo bohobub (Korean: 귀순북한동포보호법), or Protection of North Korean Defector Compatriots. The law was enacted in June 11, 1993, as law no. 4568 (48). This was a time of the Kim Young-sam’s civilian government. The need for anti-communism ideology and propaganda was declining. With the falling need fell the political significance of North Korean defectors coming to South Korea (49). Like the other presidents that followed him, President Kim practiced quiet diplomacy. One sign of this can be seen from the change of stance throughout his administration. He initially began his term with absolute acceptance of all defectors, but moved on to set up restriction mechanisms, accepting the defectors in the same way other refugees were accepted (50). A sign of how the official perception of North Korean defectors changed can also be seen in the change of department responsible for execution of the law. The department in charge was now the Ministry of Health and Welfare, not the Ministry of Patriots & Veterans Affairs (51).
            The term to note in this law is dongpo (Korean: 동포), or compatriot. In 1993, the government officially chose gwisoonbukhandongpo as the term to describe North Korean defectors (52). The term places more focus on the brotherhood - how these defectors are of the same blood and heritage with South Korean citizens - and thereby attempts to call for reconciliation and acceptance rather than honor and glory. This corresponds nicely to the purpose of the 1993 law which was social welfare, a clear contrast from former policy with the intention of government propaganda (53).
            Defectors were not heroes anymore, but just another group of impoverished citizens for the government to look after. As a result, the benefits decreased and the settlement support money, especially, decreased (54). Under previous laws, the settlement money increased for people of higher rankings. However, under the 1993 law, money was now given in accordance to family size for basic aid and economic status for additional support. The money given ranged from 20 to 100 times the monthly minimum wage in South Korea. Additional awards were also given. The amount varied from 10g to 20,000g of gold depending on the value of information or the device brought to the South Korean government. The lower cap remained the same while the maximum amount of the prize was increased from 14,500 g to 20,000 g (55).
            Residential support was provided in either of the two forms: free housing or deposit money for purchasing a house. Educational support was now provided only for the defectors themselves and not their children. For public schools, the government paid the entire fee associated with education; for private institutes, 50 percent. Employment support was also limited only to the defectors. Such support included priorities given in application as a technical official in the government. Medical service continued to be provided (56).
            There was still no settlement education, and job training was provided only for those who requested it. Loaning benefits that had been granted under the 1978 law were again taken back; loaning service was no longer provided (57).
            At a time when poor North Korean defectors were rushing into South Korea, the 1993 law proved to be a harsh measure and worked more as a hindrance to adequate settlement. This led to a reanalysis of the law, and eventually created the 1997 law (58).

IV.c. 1997 Law No. 5259: Protection and Settlement Aid for North Korean Defectors
            The 1997 law bukhanitaljoominyi boho mit jungchakjiwonae gwanhan bubryul (Korean: 북한이탈주민의 보호 및 정착지원에 관한 법률), or Protection and Settlement Aid for North Korean Defectors, was enacted on January 13, 1997, as law no. 5259 (59).
            The term used here is bukhanitaljoomin (Korean: 북한이탈주민) which was chosen as the official term in 1997 (60). The official term has not been changed ever since and continued to be used along with the term saeteomin. It can be translated into “North Korean defector” just like the word gwisoon, but its connotation is much less critical (61).
            The law was passed under President Kim Dae-jung, who also maintained the predecessor’s stance of quiet diplomacy. However, the new administration was more active in expressing the will to improve human rights for North Korean defectors and North Korean citizens. Though it did not give an official stance in regard to potential defectors from North Korea, the new administration welcomed any and all North Korean defectors that were already residing outside the country in third countries like China and Russia. It also called for more cooperation from international organizations and non-governmental organizations (62).
            The law itself corresponds well to the relatively more active stance taken by the new administration. Under the 1993 law of President Kim Young-sam, North Korean defectors found it difficult to adjust to South Korea with the reduced government support. Thus came a reanalysis of the law through which the new administration decided on a new viewpoint on the issue : preparation for unification. Supporting North Korean defectors, under this new perspective, was considered an essential part of a big unification plan. The department in charge was changed from the Ministry of Health and Welfare to the Ministry of Unification. Defectors now received support almost equal to the one given before the 1993 law. The settlement aid was again increased. The sole standard now was the size of the family. Additional prize money was also provided. The standard was the same as before but the maximum amount given was changed to 250 million won. Recognizing the hardship faced by North Korean defectors that entered the South from 1993 to 1997, the government also provided a temporary special subsidy for this group of people. (63).
            Residential support is similar to the one given under the 1993 law. Either free housing or deposit money for purchase is provided, but in the case of receiving free housing, the house has a maximum limit of 0.020993 acre. Educational support was not changed : it was still limited to the defectors only and not their children. To receive employment support in finding jobs, North Korean defectors had to file a request for aid. Living support and medical service were provided in the same manner as before (64).
            One major change in policy was the provision of settlement education. All government institutes for settlement education were established either under this law or after this law was implemented. Job training was also provided through government funding. Loaning services were again available, but only for those who were not covered under other employment benefits. Some examples would be those who are self-employed or engaged in agriculture (65).

IV.d. Recent changes
            After the 1997 law, no law has been newly enacted for North Korean defectors. This is the section that includes policy changes of the government after the 1997 law.

IV.d.1. 1999 to 2000
            Many new programs were added in 1999, including the occupation support system and special advantages for old-age pensions (66). One special program was protection personnel system which can be divided into three categories: the residential protection personnel, the personal protection personnel, and the employment protection personnel.
            Residential protection personnel are selected among the officials in every local government. They are responsible for helping North Korean defectors in dealing with many of the problems associated with moving to a new residence. Their task includes driving defectors to the new residence and helping fill out forms required for administrative purposes. They are also responsible for providing information about the local community and the social welfare programs defectors are eligible for. As of 2007, there were a total of 211 residential protection personnel (67).
            Personal protection personnel are different from bodyguards. They are chosen among local police officers and work as consulters for defectors in cases where defectors feel that they have fallen victim to personal threat (68). Each defector is provided with one personal protection personnel for two years (69).
            Employment protection personnel are selected in a systematic way, making it so that one is present in each of the 50 employment aid agencies throughout the country. They work as brokers for North Korean defectors, helping search for employment opportunities and personally connecting them to possible employers. They also work as consulters regarding experience at the workplace (70). Additionally, in cases where defectors request for job training, they link defectors with public and private organizations that have the capacity to provide the program. Job training provided through this system is completely government funded (71).
            Support for employment was strengthened even further with a new employment protection system established in 2000. Businesses that employed North Korean defectors were now given subsidies for the first few years of employment. The subsidies amount to half the wage as long as the subsidy did not go over 500,000 won per month for the first year and 700,000 per month for the second year of employment (72).

IV.d.2. 2004 to 2005
            With the 1997 law, there was much criticism regarding the system’s lack of incentive for North Korean defectors to become independent. In July, 2004, therefore, the Ministry of Unification proposed an amendment to rid of such side-effects and foster more independence and employment among North Korean defectors (73). The proposal came down to four major areas of change.
            The first was residential support. As opposed to the previous system in which the government either provided a house or the money necessary for purchasing a house, the new system gave much less benefits for the defectors. North Korean defectors were only given priority for houses built by Korea Land & Housing Corporation and related organizations, meaning that the house itself was to be purchased with the defectors’ money, not the government’s (74).
            The second was educational support. The system became more specified. In order to receive funding for education, those under the age of 35 were required to enter college within the five years of protected residency. Defectors not qualified to enter college were given exceptions to the rule, but once they reached the proper age or passed the qualification exam, they also had to enter college within five years of acquiring the right to apply. Exceptions were also set for those attending vocational schools, academies of continuing education, and educational training institutes certified by the law. For these defectors, there was no age limit (75).
            The third was social security. Previously, North Korean defectors were given privilege over others in receiving relief; with the amendment, they were put on an equal playing field with the other impoverished citizens. The only exception was given in cases where everyone in the family was incapable of working. After a year, defectors must participate in self-support programs in order to receive further aid (76).
            The fourth and the last was settlement money. The Ministry of Unification called for a minimization of the money given for settlement. In response to the point that North Korean defectors - not used to the market economy - were prone to waste their money if the money were given in huge sums, payment of settlement money was divided throughout a set period of two to three years (77).
            The efforts to minimize the settlement money and maximize the independence of the defectors were sustained and expanded in January, 2005. Under previous policies, the total amount of settlement money given was 32,000 US Dollars per person on average. However, in early 2005, the sum was changed to 10 million won, or 9,000 US Dollars, per person. Families were still paid more in proportion to the size of the family. Keeping with the spirit of divided payment, each defector was now to be given 3 million Won upon arrival, with the rest paid in quarterly installments over the next two to three years. An additional 10 million won can be provided upon request for aid in renting an apartment (78).
            The reduction of initial settlement aid was compensated with a new settlement helper system set up in 2005 (79). Settlement helpers assist defectors with their daily operations, such as cleaning the house and shopping together. They also spend time with the defectors on holidays in cases where the defectors escaped alone and do not have family members. They also help with completing administrative documentation, such as registering in new districts, registering cars, and registering for various types of aids (80).

IV.d.3. 2007
            In May, 2007, the Ministry of Education expanded the protection personnel system to include a fourth category: education for adolescents. Education protection personnel are chosen among teachers in about ten major regions for defector adolescents. Their role is primarily to work as a personal education mentor to the defector adolescent, providing guidance in school life, consultation regarding education, and extra classes (81).

IV.d.4. 2009
            Some of the most recent amendments were proposed on January 30, 2009, and passed on July 28, 2009 (82). The changes can be classified in three main areas of change.
            The first was expanded protection for defectors. Before the change, defectors that had lived abroad in third countries - countries other than North and South Korea - for over ten years before coming to South Korea were not eligible to apply for defector benefits. However, with the change, the government policy also applied to poor North Korean defectors who had fled to foreign nations for a long time as a means of reaching the South (83).
            The second was encouragement of dispersal to provincial regions outside Gyeonggi-do. Many North Korean defectors remained in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do, the province surrounding the capital city, after defection. However, with the 2009 amendment, the government promoted scattering of the defector population throughout Korea by providing more monetary incentives for defectors wishing to move to other provinces. North Korean defectors who decided to be a part of the agricultural sector in more provincial regions could now access additional government funds. The law was amended so that local level adaptation courses can be established, again encouraging defectors to scatter to regions other than Gyeonggi-do (84).
            The third and the last was the additional support for North Korean defector orphans and adolescents. Government funding for supporting education at lower levels increased, including the funding for maintaining special schools for North Korean adolescents (85).

V. Government institute and organization for settlement
            Along with legislation, the South Korean government established institutions to aid the settlement of North Korean defectors.

V.a. Hanawon
            Hanawon is a government settlement center for North Korean defectors in Anseong, Gyeonggi-do (86). It was established in July 8, 1999, to provide effective protection and support for North Korean defectors whose numbers were increasing dramatically (87).
            Upon entrance to the South, defectors are subject to investigations for identification. When the procedure is complete, they are automatically sent to Hanawon for an adaptation program (88). The first part of the program is the social adaptation program. This program, which used to be an eight week course, was lengthened to a twelve week course in 2009 (89). The second part is job training which usually ranges between six to eight months (90).
            As a whole, the adaptation program comes down to four areas, three of which belong to the social adaptation division. The first is basic job training and considering different employment options. Basic job training focuses on practical skills like using the computer that are unfamiliar to the defectors. About 40 percent of the time in Hanawon is spent in this area. The second is fostering an understanding of South Korea. This includes lessons on the principles of capitalism, the market economy, and democracy. It also provides information about the general culture and law of South Korea. About 32.8 percent of the time is spent in the second area. The third is learning the aid process. As North Korean defectors are the beneficiaries, the course is made to provide better understanding of the benefits and aid they are eligible for while settling in South Korea. They are also given information as to how exactly the aid will be given. About 15.8 percent of the time is spent in this third area. The fourth is improving health. This includes psychological health as well as physical health. Doctors and clinics are stationed within the institute for defectors who have health problems. Instructors help defectors in dealing with the emotional stress from the process of defection and adapting to a completely new environment. About 11.4 percent of the time is spent in this last area (91).
            Education for minors - those below nineteen - in Hanawon was limited in the past; students were commissioned for education in Samjuk Elementary School and Hankyore Middle & High School. Hanawon took responsibility for providing support for possible emotional distress they may have had in South Korean society, or more specifically, in the schools. It also gave extra classes after school to help them catch up. On September 30, 2009, however, Hanadool School was established within Hanawon to provide education for minors within the institute (92).
            The National Intelligence Service has strictly restricted access to the institute in order to protect the identity of North Korean defectors. However, to celebrate its tenth anniversary, Hanawon revealed the interior of its major facilities to the public. Reporters were allowed in the facilities such as the computer room, the religion room, the library, and the hospital. They were strictly forbidden, however, from taking pictures of people’s faces (93). The photographs from Hanawon, as can be seen below, only portray the sight of a person’s back.

Figure 2

Figure 3

            Hanawon was originally built to accommodate a total of about 200 people (96). However, with the influx of defectors increasing to over 1,000 every year (97), the government had to double the size of the institution in 2002. However, even with this expansion, it still lacked space. Thus, in 2004, a separate branch was opened, marking the program’s fifth anniversary. As a result, the facility can house 400 people at a time, a number still short of the number of defectors arriving each year (98).

V.b. Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors
            Bukhanitaljoomin hoowonhweh (Korean: 북한이탈주민후원회), or the Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors, was founded as a special government corporation under the Ministry of Unification in August 18, 1997. It was founded upon article 30 of the 1997 law on the Protection and Settlement Aid for North Korean Defectors (99).
            Though established under this name in 1997, the organization originates from far back in 1962 when the first law regarding North Korean defectors was passed. At this time, the organization was called wolnamgwisoonja hoowonhweh (Korean: 월남귀순자후원회), or the Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors. In English, the name seems to be the same as the current one, but is different in connotation as the more hostile Korean term gwisoonja was used at this time. The organization continued to change its name in accordance to the term that was used in the new laws of 1978 and 1993. In 1978, the organization was reestablished as wolnamgwisoonyongsa hoowonhweh (Korean: 월남귀순용사후원회), or the Society for the Support of Brave North Korean Defectors. In 1993, the organization was reestablished as gwisoonbukhandongpo hoowonhweh (Korean: 귀순북한동포후원회), or the Society for the Support of North Korean Defector Compatriots. Thus, the current organization is essentially a 1997 reestablishment of the organization that existed in the past (100).
            The Society has three main roles. The first is the role of a guardian for the North Korean defectors. The organization aids defectors in effective settlement within the new environment. This includes aid for seeking job opportunities as well. The organization attempts to foster independence for the defectors so that they will eventually be able to survive on their own, working as functioning members of the society. The second role is that of an executive office for civilian support organizations. There are many civilian organizations in South Korea focused on helping the North Korean defectors, and the Society works as its central agency that organizes joint conventions and strengthens the overall power of such organizations. The third role is the role of a bridge between the government and the public. The North Korean defector issue is a challenge for both entities that requires cooperation from both. The organization works as a connection between the two entities in creating a strategic solution for the issue of defector settlement (101).
            The organization engages in a variety of activities. It holds fund-raising events and provides monetary support for defectors living under the poverty line. It also provides adaptation support through providing classes on specific areas of South Korean culture. It has its own consultation office for defectors to freely visit which was established in May 18, 1999. It supplies indirect aid for defectors abroad, and regularly conducts researches on the status quo of defectors living in South Korea. It holds campaigns to encourage public efforts for support, and even provides scholarships for defectors attending college (102).
            Working as the hub of public and private efforts to aid North Korean defectors, the Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors is one of the most important organizations in South Korea regarding the defector issue.

VI. Status Quo
            With the ever-increasing number of North Korean defectors, the South Korean government is beginning to face new challenges.

VI.a. Number of defectors in South Korea
            On October 2, 2009, Joongang Daily, a newspaper in South Korea, released an article stating that more than 3,000 North Korean defectors were coming in every year. The statistics in this article may be slightly inflated, but such shortcoming is understandable as the article came as a response to an event on the previous day, the most recent defection of eleven North Korean citizens riding on a single wooden boat (103).
            In fact, the number of defectors entering South Korea every year has increased dramatically over the years and may exceed 3,000 soon if the trend continues. According to the Ministry of Unification, the current number of North Korean defectors in South Korea is 16,210 (104).

Figure 4. Number of North Korean defectors entering South Korea [Last updated: May, 2009] (105)

Year -89 -93 -98 -01 -02 -03 -04 -05 -06 -07 -08 -09.5 Total
Number 607 34 306 1,043 1,138 1,281 1,894 1,383 2,018 2,544 2,809 -09.5 1153


VI.b. Response from North Korean defectors
            The general response of the North Korean defectors towards government policy and settlement in South Korea is positive.
            In a 2003 research conducted by the Korea Institute for National Unification, 770 defectors were asked a question on the degree satisfaction with the government’s financial support. 60 percent reported a high level of satisfaction as opposed to the 13 percent who expressed dissatisfaction. In the same survey, the defectors were asked what proved to be most helpful in adapting to the new environment. The most prevalent answer was “the government program” - a response given by 40 percent of the people. This was followed by “individual effort” which accounted for 27 percent of the response (106). These results are consistent with previous survey results. In 2001, in a survey on the adaptation and life of North Korean defectors in South Korea, defectors were asked of their opinions on the government’s financial aid. 43 percent found no problem with the aid; 25.6 percent found it adequate; 13.4 percent found it more than enough; and only 18 percent found it problematic (107). In fact, according to the Korea Institute for National Unification, most of the defectors found problems in their own ability than in the government’s lack of support. To the question what makes life in South Korea most difficult, the least prevalent answer, 3.4 percent, was the “lack of government support” (108).
            A similar research in 2006 titled “Special Research on 300 North Korean Defectors” asked questions on the overall satisfaction with living in South Korea and found a majority of the defectors either satisfied or very satisfied. 17.3 percent were very satisfied; 50.8 percent were satisfied; 25.4 percent were somewhat dissatisfied; and 6.1 percent were absolutely dissatisfied (109).

VI.c. Criticism and suggested alternatives on the current policy
            As is always the case, there is much criticism on the current government policy. One of such is the practical concern regarding the government budget and facility. With the increasing number of North Korean defectors and the amount of settlement money the government provides, the system can easily become a financial burden for the government. The facility, Hanawon, is also a major problem as it cannot accommodate and provide adequate service for all the defectors (110).
            One suggested alternative to this problem is a cooperative program maintained by both the public and the government. It requires for more involvement of the civilian organizations already existing. The core idea of the plan is to shift part of the responsibility to the private sector, making it less of a budget strain for the government. Another alternative that has been brought up is decentralizing the settlement program. In the status quo, all the settlement facilities are located in and around Seoul. By establishing and maintaining local level settlement centers, the plan attempts to solve the problem with the lack of facility (111). Still another alternative is adding a process of application and evaluation. By making North Korean defectors apply for settlement support, Hanawon will now be filled with less people and the ones that reside in the facility will only be the people eager to learn. Under this system, aid is expected to become more responsive to the situation of each and every family (112).
            Another problem is the issue of reconciliation. Despite South Korea’s emphasis on a “one Korea”, prejudice and discrimination against North Korean defectors still exist. According to a research conducted by the Society for the Support of North Korean Defectors, prejudice and discrimination still ranks as the top cause of stress for defectors living in South Korea (113). A special research on 300 North Korean defectors conducted in 2006 also asked questions about what makes settlement in the South most difficult. The answer most frequently given was “discrimination”, a response given by 47.5 percent of the people. When asked an additional question on the level of discrimination, 20 percent reported extreme levels of discrimination and 31.5 percent reported that discrimination exists to a certain degree (114).
            The problem is rooted in the attitude of both sides?the defectors and the South Korean citizens. Many defectors refuse to identify themselves as South Korean, and still identify themselves as being North Korean even after defection. In fact, the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism reported that 58.4 percent of defectors still regarded themselves as North Koreans and only 6.3 percent recognized themselves as South Koreans (115). Worsening the problem, South Koreans are unwilling to fully accept North Korean defectors as ordinary citizens. This is a difficult problem to solve, but one that must be addressed in order to establish true settlement for North Korean defectors.

VII. Conclusion
            For the South Korean government, the issue of North Korean defectors is delicate. In one level, it places South Korea in a dilemma. With the initial policy of actively endorsing and encouraging defection, South Korea could not turn its back on North Korean defectors even when the need to antagonize the North and the political value of defectors had substantially decreased. With the recent economic downturn in the North and a subsequent increase in the number of poor defectors, South Korea now became the host to more than 16,000 North Korean defectors, many of them from the lowest ranks of the Northern society.
            On another level, it gave South Korea a difficult problem of practicality. With limited budget and facilities, the government of South Korea needs to find a way by which it will accommodate and aid all the potential North Korean defectors. With the number of defectors arriving per year reaching 3,000, this is expected to soon become an important issue for the South in deciding its future course of action towards North Korea and its defectors.
            The terms used to describe defectors have changed throughout history, reflecting the North-South relationship or the government’s definition of defectors at the time. The cause of defection has also changed throughout history, mainly in response to changing situations in the North. The government policy for defectors in South Korea has also changed throughout history as shown by this research paper. However, despite the fluctuations, South Korea still remains the most prominent host for North Korean defectors and one of the most desired destination for the defectors. With the defector issue directly related to the North-South relationship and the unification plan, the government of South Korea faces many tough challenges.


VIII. Notes

(1) CIA, 2009.
(2) HRNK, 2006.
(3) KINU, 2000.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Yonhap News, 2008.
(6) KINU, 2000.
(7) HRNK, 2006.
(8) Ibid.
(9) Article: List of North Korean defectors in South Korea, from Wikipedia.
(10) The Washington Post, 2008.
(11) Dong, 2005.
(12) Oh and Kim, 2006.
(13) Dong, 2005.
(14) HRNK, 2006.
(15) Chun, 1997.
(16) MOU, 2004.
(17) Article: Korean War Veterans Memorial, from Doosan Encyclopedia.
(18) Chung, 2007.
(19) HRNK, 2006.
(20) Article: List of North Korean defectors in South Korea, from Wikipedia.
(21) Hong, 2002.
(22) Dong, 2005.
(23) Chung, 2007.
(24) Dong, 2005.
(25) Article: Wonhochu, from Naver Dictionary.
(26) Dong, 2005.
(27) Ibid.
(28) Ibid.
(29) HRNK, 2006.
(30) NARS, 2006.
(31) HRNK, 2006.
(32) NARS, 2006.
(33) Refer to II.a.
(34) Dong, 2005.
(35) Ibid.
(36) Ibid.
(37) HRNK, 2006.
(38) Dong, 2005.
(39) Ibid.
(40) Lee, 2000.
(41) Dong, 2005.
(42) Ibid.
(43) HRNK, 2006.
(44) Ibid.
(45) Ibid.
(46) Ibid.
(47) Ibid.
(48) Chung, 2007.
(49) Dong, 2005.
(50) Chung, 2009.
(51) Dong, 2005.
(52) Chun, 1997.
(53) Dong, 2005.
(54) KINU, 2004.
(55) Dong, 2005.
(56) Ibid.
(57) Ibid.
(58) Ibid.
(59) Article: Protection and Settlement Aid for North Korean Defectors, from Doosan Encyclopedia.
(60) KINU, 2004.
(61) Dong, 2005.
(62) Chung, 2009.
(63) Dong, 2005.
(64) Ibid.
(65) Ibid.
(66) KINU, 2004.
(67) MOU Humanitarian Cooperation Office, 2008.
(68) Ibid.
(69) Chung, 2007.
(70) MOU Humanitarian Cooperation Office, 2008.
(71) KINU, 2004.
(72) Ibid.
(73) Ibid.
(74) Dong, 2005.
(75) Ibid.
(76) Ibid.
(77) KINU, 2004.
(78) HRNK, 2006.
(79) Hankook Ilbo, 2004.
(80) MOU Humanitarian Cooperation Office, 2008.
(81) Kukmin Ilbo, 2007.
(82) MOU, 2009.
(83) Ibid.
(84) Ibid.
(85) Ibid.
(86) Article: North Korean defectors, from Wikipedia.
(87) Article: Hanawon, from Doosan Encyclopedia.
(88) North Korean Defectors: Who Are They, from MCST, 2009.
(89) For the Natural Adaptation of North Korean Defectors in South Korea, from MCST, 2009.
(90) Chung, 2007.
(91) Ibid.
(92) MOU, 2009.
(93) The Daily NK, 2009.
(94) Ibid.
(95) Ibid.
(96) Article: North Korean defectors, from Wikipedia.
(97) Statistics on North Korean Defectors, from MOU, 2009.
(98) Article: North Korean defectors, from Wikipedia.
(99) SSNKD.
(100) Ibid.
(101) Ibid.
(102) Ibid.
(103) Joongang Daily, 2009.
(104) See Figure 4.
(105) Statistics on North Korean Defectors, from MOU, 2009.
(106) KINU, 2004.
(107) Jeon, 2001.
(108) KINU, 2004.
(109) Oh, 2006.
(110) Kim, 2006.
(111) Ibid.
(112) Jeon, 2001.
(113) SSNKD.
(114) Oh, 2006.
(115) MCST, 2009.

IX. Bibliography

Websites below were accessed from June to October, 2009:

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