The following is an excerpt of a Washington Post interview with Lee Hark-joon, a journalist for the Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest newspaper, responding to the question “ What could the world – and South Korea in particular – be doing to better help people who have escaped from North Korea?”:
A North Korean defector I interviewed had a son with cerebral palsy … She came from an artistic group in North Korea and was good at playing musical instruments. She had the so-called “star quality” that outsiders want from a defector.
Many human rights groups, churches and TV networks wanted her to appear for lectures or shows. In short, she was offered money to sell her horrible personal stories. She asked my opinion.
My advice was this. “It’s your decision in the end, but I don’t think that kind of life is an ideal way to settle down. What if another defector emerges with more horrible or stronger stories? The attention given to you would move to the other person and you might try to make up a story to win the attention back. It’s a vicious circle. How about looking for a way to earn decent money and live with your family?”
With help of her local church and charity groups, she learned to be a hairdresser and got a job. A hospital sponsored her son’s medical treatment. She once lived in the middle of media spotlight, but she now happily lives as an ordinary citizen in Seoul with her family.
I consider this as a model case of a North Korean defector settling down in South Korea. An ordinary citizen is valued in a democratic society.
To do more of this, regular people in South Korea need to pay more attention to North Korean defectors so they can live normal lives without being tempted by human rights groups or the media to sell their stories. North Korean defectors need to get jobs without discrimination and local community need to try harder to embrace them.