Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul who has researched North Korean refugees in South Korea, says Seoul would struggle to deal with a high number of refugees from the North.
“South Korea’s population is around 50 million,” he said. “A sudden influx of North Korean refugees is going to be incredibly stressful to the social service infrastructure and the labor market in South Korea,” Go says.
Go conducted a study of North Korean refugees in South Korea and found that many of them bring issues of PTSD, a lack of adequate education and poor health. For example, North Korean middle and high school kids dropped out at a range between 4.2 and 7.5 percent between 2010 and 2013 compared to 1.2-1.3 percent among South Korean students during the same time frame.
Attitudes towards South Koreans in the workplace isn’t much better, according to his report: A survey by the Korean Educational Development Institute (KEDI) (2013) showed that out of 429 elementary and middle school North Korean refugee students, 10.7 percent of them reported being discriminated against or socially ostracized due to the fact that they were from North Korea. Fifty-four of them also reported that they would not let their South Korean peers know they came from North Korea if they were given the chance to transfer to a different school.
Similarly, North Korean refugees in the workplace report having similar experience of social discrimination by their co-workers and superiors. For example, one employer whose employee is from North Korea expressed fear that his employee might kill others if provoked emotionally (Choi and Park, 2011). This prejudice stems from hearing or watching news that in North Korea, public executions are common. Even after taking into account the inevitable cultural misunderstandings in when dealing with recently arrived North Korean refugees, South Koreans’ strong prejudice and stereotyping of North Korea and its people are widespread and well entrenched.