South Korea has identified hundreds of North Korean defectors who need emergency assistance, according to the country’s Ministry of Unification. The ministry, which looks after the settlement of North Korean defectors, plans to offer emergency help to a total of 553 North Koreans who fled to the South.
The measure, announced Tuesday, is aimed at preventing a tragedy like the deaths last July of a defector in her early 40s and her 6-year-old son. They were found dead in their rented apartment in Seoul. Many assumed that they starved to death because their refrigerator was empty, as was her bank account. Police found no evidence of foul play or suicide.
After divorcing her Chinese-Korean husband, the woman lived on a monthly childcare allowance from the government, which amounted to less than $100. She initially fled to South Korea in 2009 and gave birth to her son there.
The deaths shed light on the plight of North Korean defectors in the affluent South, prompting the Seoul administration to check on the welfare of other defectors.
During the past few months, the Ministry of Unification checked up on more than 10 percent of the 31,000 North Korean defectors and designated 553 to be in need. However, there still might be blind spots; the ministry could not reach 155 defectors.
Earlier this month, a defector in his early 60s was found dead at a cemetery in Daegu. Police found a note describing his struggles living alone on state subsidies.
“We plan to check the status of North Korean defectors twice a year. We also think of introducing a better system to help them together with the Korea Hana Foundation,” the ministry said in a statement. The Korea Hana Foundation is a state-funded entity that helps defectors.