first_img RELATED ARTICLESMORE FROM AUTHOR Hanawon director offers glimpse into highs and lows of resettlement process for N. Korean defectors By Daily NK – 2015.07.09 4:45pm News A unified Korean Peninsula is something weall dream about. But what do the experts think that process will look like?It’s time for “Unification Table Talk” where we interview experts inthis field. Since Kim Jong Un rose to power, borderregions have been buttoned up and escape routes have been blocked off as partof a crackdown effort that has halved the number of defectors who are able toreach South Korea compared to years past. Although this is a dramaticreduction, some defectors do still manage to slip through the net in order tostart their new lives here in South Korea. At the present moment, there arenearly 30 thousand such defectors in South Korea. On this edition of “Unification Table Talk,”we sit down with Hanawon Director Kim Jung Tae to discuss what defectors do inorder to acclimate to their new surroundings and what the government is doingto help ease the transition. Hanawon is an agency dedicated to assistingdefectors adjust to their new lives in South Korea. It is funded and organizedby the Ministry of Unification. 1. Right now how many defectors are livingin South Korea? There are approximately 28 thousand peoplefrom North Korea living here right now. 2. What kind of trends do we see these daysin terms of defectors entering South Korea? In the 1990s, about one thousand peoplecame per year. That doubled in the 2000s when about 1,500-2,000 people came peryear. It jumped again in 2009 to its highest figure at 2,914. After that itstarted to come down again to about 1,500/year. Last year we saw about 1,396people enter the country.   2-1. The graph looks like it’s revealing adownwards curve…. That’s right. This year in the last threemonths, only about 300 people have come in. 2-2. Why do you think so many defectorswere able to escape in 2009? At that time there were a few instances ofgovernment level officials sneaking out and taking a large amount of peoplewith them. That ended up being the most we’d ever gotten. 3. Once the defectors come to South Korea,what kind of processes are in place to help them settle here in South Koreansociety? In some cases, there are planned entrances,in which case the government will be duly informed. But in most instances, thedefectors volunteer themselves to the North Korean Defector Resident ProtectionServices Center at the National Intelligence Service. At that facility, theresidents are interviewed and researched for approximately one month. Afterthat point, they are sent to the Hanawon facility, where they get three monthsof training in basic adaptation techniques. Then they are assigned to rented apartmentsin different regions throughout the city. Once they move into their newapartments, we show them our local assistance center. That’s where they willcontinue to get detailed advice about making their new lives.   4. I think we can all agree just howimportant it is that these defectors get settled and adapted to life here inSouth Korea. In your experience, what is the most difficult element of thattransition for them? They have a lot of struggles, honestly. Toexpress their feelings on the matter, there’s an expression. It goes, “In NorthKorea, we starve. In 3rd countries, we don’t know the language.When we come to South Korea, we don’t know how to live.” As the director ofHanawon, I can certainly understand what they mean by this. It has been 70years since our country has been divided. That means three or four generationsof living apart from one another. Now, we’re still the same people, still cutfrom the same cloth, so we look the same and can understand each other to adegree, but we’ve grown up in totally different sociopolitical circumstances.If you look at it from a cultural perspective, South Korea is like a totallydifferent country to defectors. I think that’s the most accurate way to sum uptheir view on things. 4-1. So even though we share the samelanguage, there are still cultural differences which present challenges for thedefectors. I’ve also heard some people say that South Koreans tend to use a lotof English loan words, and that adapting to South Korean dialects can betricky. Through the process of becoming exposed tothe globalized world, South Korea has started using an abundant amount offoreign words and concepts with a high frequency. There’s also a slightprejudice against those who speak pure Korean without dropping in these trendywords and ideas from other cultures.  For example, instead of “chae-so,”North Koreans say “nam-sae” for vegetable, and instead of “Ga-gae,” NorthKoreans say “sang-jeom” for store. So then they come here anticipating thatthey’ve finally come to a place outside North Korea where they can expressthemselves comfortably, and they are confronted with a really differentdialect, pickled with alien words and phrases. The ensuing attempt tounderstand and be understood can be quite stressful for them.   5. It must be difficult to adjust to lifehere. Just to review, Hanawon is an agency dedicated to assisting defectorsadjust to their new lives in South Korea. It is funded and organized by theMinistry of Unification. What kind of education and support does Hanawon giveto the defectors? Defectors start their new lives with us atHanawon. It’s no exaggeration to say that. In truth, the defectors havesuccessfully made it to the South in body, but in spirit they’re stillstruggling in terms of reconciling their values, emotions, and culturalexpectations with the new surroundings they suddenly find themselves in. Until they overcome these struggles, they haven’t completely escaped. At Hanawon, it’s our responsibility tounderstand this, and bearing it in mind, train them with the best copingmechanisms we can find. In just about 400 hours, we have to give them anunderstanding of South Korean society, and since many of them are going tostart working life shortly after release from Hanawon, we have to give themcareer guidance about working life expectations and job hunting as well. That’swhy we devote about ¾ of our time together to those sorts of issues. In theremaining time, we discuss emotional stability, health maintenance, andcultural differences. 6. Do men, women, and children receivedifferent training? First of all, we send women who come withtheir families to a dedicated facility in Anseong. They get their educationtogether over there. We send the men to Hwacheon Hanawon. We specialize theprograms to our trainees. We try to match up the program’s characteristics tothe needs of their specific population. Elementary school kids go to the nearbySamjuk Elementary School for their education. The middle school kids areeducated separately in separate school called the HanaDuel School inside theHanawon complex. They start out there getting their most basic education andthen when their placement gets settled, they can move out to one of many differentregions. 7. What kind of policies does the SouthKorean government have in terms of supporting and assisting the defectors? Whenthey first arrive, I imagine they’d need some financial support. What kind offiscal policies are in place to support that? When they first come here, we really try toeducate them in means for self reliance. We think that’s the best way to getsettled and adjusted. So the first thing they need to do when they come here isfind a job. So we have a job placement program. We also have job training, andonce they do find themselves employed we also offer employment bonuses. We alsotry to recognize and consider what sort of skills and work experiences thedefectors have had in North Korea and 3rd countries. Then we try to land theman opportunity in that field. And because we recognize that acclimating to theSouth Korean work style can be difficult, the government is extending the workprotection duration from two years to three. During this work protection time, the governmentoffers support, assistance, and legal protections to the workers. We also knowthat getting started here can be an expensive prospect, so we have createdsomething called the “Future Happiness Fund.” It’s a government supportedsavings plan. The government matches the donations of the defector, so insidefive years it’s possible to save up about KRW 50 million won (USD ~45,000).That fund is now being installed for the long term benefit of defectors. 7-1. I can see how that could significantlyimprove their ability to adapt. I think a lot of our listeners in North Koreawill be curious about the housing situation. Can you speak a bit about that? We have leased apartments available for theresidents in different regions all over. This is extremely helpful for thedefectors, but it also places some limitations. Unfortunately we can’t providehousing in the far out and rural regions such as Sanchon. So they tend tosettle down in areas with concentrated apartment complexes. The applicationprocess in place for securing these apartments is a bit different from the waythat most South Koreans procure a house. We use this advantage to try to ensurethat our defectors have a place to call home as soon as they leave Hanawon. 8. Every defector has different financialcapabilities and resources, different social experiences, and different levelsof adaptation ability. On that basis, there are some who argue that the supportpolicies in place should customize to each individual. Would that kind ofpolicy be possible in your opinion? I’m not so sure. Considering we are nownearing 30 thousand defectors living here in South Korea, individualizedsupport services would be an awfully difficult agenda to put into action. As Isaid before, we do customize our support services by gender and age, includingschool level. In terms of individualized support, there are volunteers at eachregional Hana support center who work one on one with the defectors and fulfillthat role. 8-1. I imagine that the psychologicaladaptation must be difficult and time consuming. Are there any specific supportservices aimed at easing the transition?   We run an emotional support program to helpthe defectors while they are at the Hanawon intake facility. Once they leave,we have a mentoring system that is administered through the Hana regionaloffices. This way, they always have someone close by to give advice and lend anear. They help the defectors overcome some of the emotional and psychologicaldifficulties through a long term personal relationship. 9. However, as you know, some defectorshave actually elected to live in a 3rd country after coming and spending sometime in Korea. What do you think prevented them from being able to successfullyadapt to South Korean society? There are myriad different stories andexplanations for one defectors choose to leave after arriving in South Korea,but the majority of these cases have to do with misunderstandings that arisefrom cultural differences. In North Korea, they had no experience at all withthe concept of freedom. Some think that freedom simply means the ability to doas they please. This can lead to some impetuous behavior that ends up causingdifficulties. So these particular individuals feel a sense of disappointmentwhen they realize that freedom does not mean that you can do whatever you wantwhenever you want. They end up leaving because they suspect itmight be better someplace else. Over half of them return after realizing thatthat really isn’t the case. Looking back at these cases, I think there is ademonstrated need to establish some preventative measures to clear up thesekind of confusions before they even happen. 10. Yes, it does seem like there should bea plan in plan along those lines. What kind of policies does the governmenthave in place to help the defectors who have trouble adapting? As I said, I think that those preventativemeasures need to be built into the education process at Hanawon. When thedefectors choose to leave South Korea, they lose all of the benefits that theyhad been enjoying. Some of them don’t realize this, so I think that they shouldbe warned about that as well during their education at Hanawon. When I givelectures at Hanawon about settlement procedures and advice, I’m sure to givethem specific examples about what the consequences are for those who elect toleave. It really isn’t a very attractive alternative. So even if the temptationarises it’s best to stick it out.11. I wonder what your evaluation is ofSouth Korea’s defector support policies.   First off, considering I’m an involvedparty and a beneficiary of these laws, I think there are definitely somelimitations to how objectively I’m able to evaluate the policies in question. Ithink that these policies have a profound impact on the way that the defectorssettle and on their ability to adapt to their new lives here. I have been doing a lot of thinking aboutwhat obstacles prevent defectors from adjusting to South Korean working life. Ithink it is related to the way that South Koreans and defectors think about oneanother. I wrote my doctoral thesis on this topic in 2014. I came out of thatwriting process thinking that cash contributions aimed at helping defectorsresettle are not entirely positive things. I think that the cash contributionsavoid the heart of the problem and reflect the prejudices that South Koreanshold about defectors. I think that ultimately that sort of policy has anadverse effect. It discourages and damages the ability and will of defectors tomake a happy life here. A large number of South Koreans believethat excessive monetary support is actually a hindrance to the defectors’ willand ability to adapt and resettle. There has been word that this has causedproblems for South Koreans as well, but the truth is that most defectors usethe resources we allocate to go on to live healthy, productive lives. It istrue that a small minority are looking to take advantage of the system byavoiding hard working and soaking up as many benefits as possible. You mightview this as a flaw in the system. 12. What is the most important aspect ofthe policies that support defectors? The most important thing to do is to equipthese individuals with the skills and knowledge necessary to adjust to lifehere in South Korea. This kind of effort contributes to an optimistic portrayalof life in South Korea that the defectors can relay to their families in theNorth. Secondly, I think helping the defectors to live productive working andsocial lives in South Korea will help South Koreans have a positive view ofthem. We talk a lot about how unification iscoming and what we need to do to be prepared for that, but helping the currentgeneration of defectors adjust to life here forms the basis of a model that canbe used down the line. That’s why it is so important to create and sustain anenvironment that is mutually beneficial to defectors and South Koreans. Thefuture of unification depends on it.   13. In the future, we can expect evenlarger amounts of defectors to arrive here. What steps can average SouthKoreans make in order to smooth the transition for these defectors? It takes two to tango, doesn’t it? And wehave a saying that habits that you pick up as a child tend to continue onthrough old age. It’s certainly true that North Koreans have to work hard inorder to learn and lead prosperous lives here, but I think that us South Koreansalso have a responsibility to contribute to an atmosphere of tolerance,understanding, and collaboration. Understanding and forgiveness are the mostattractive attitudes for South Koreans to take with regards to assisting ourdefector friends. 13-1. Director Kim, I’d like to ask you apersonal question. You were the director of Hanawon’s Elementary School programfrom 1999 to 2001. I’m curious about that experience. What was the mostdifficult experience? What was the most rewarding? I believe that my time as director of thatelementary program was the most fruitful and rewarding period of my33-year-long professional life. Before starting that job, I was working at theMinistry of Health and Welfare on unification preparedness. I was then transferredto the Ministry of Unification. Before working at Hanawon, I was the sectionchief of resettlement support services. After my appointment to the elementaryschool program, I was tasked with handling over 3,000 students. I feel aspecial connection and affection for those students, even to this day. Theycontact me from time to time and I’m able to give them advice about this andthat. It is just such a rewarding job. 13-2. We’ve all seen that you are likelythe foremost expert on defector resettlement and it’s clear that you areworking hard to help these defectors. Given your experiences and position, I’mcurious about what your thoughts and predictions are about the future,especially as they relate to unification and North Korea.   My hope is that unification will cease tobe merely a talking point and an impossible wish. Let’s work to bring separatedfamilies together as fast as we possibly can. Let’s start a unification processthat is centered on helping people, rather than one built on national ideology.While it is true that the government has its work to do, every single person iscapable of making a small contribution. This important task of makingunification a reality is not the task of politicians in faraway places, butrather the duty of everyday South Koreans.  This has been “Unification Table Talk.”Today we sat down with Kim Jung-Tae, the director of Hanawon. We discussed themechanics behind the policies that support defectors. Mr. Director, thank youfor coming in to speak with us today.     News Ordinary Pyongyang residents have not received government rations since mid-April Facebook Twittercenter_img AvatarDaily NKQuestions or comments about this article? 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