Today, there are some 25,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. While they have escaped extreme poverty and political repression, life in the South can also be hard. In fact, the suicide rate among North Korean defectors is six times that for South Koreans.
“Children over 15 have no incentive to study”, explains Park Sun-young, constitutional law professor at Dongguk University. “They had no education in North Korea and they just give up studying. They also need to earn money to bring the family members that remain in the North.”
Yet, in the long term, these youngsters cannot make money as they have little or no education and, after years of malnutrition, are not physically strong. “They are too small even for physical labor. They fall into despair and some commit suicide,” Park said. “This is a social problem, a time bomb, and we need to address this issue and prepare for unification.”
Park offered the case of East and West Germany before the unification, as an example of what should be done here. “Before unification, the unemployment rate among those who escaped the East was lower than that of West Germans. This was achieved through a year-long job training for the East German defectors.”
By comparison, 95 percent of North Korean defectors are unemployed after they leave Hana Center where they stay for three months familiarizing themselves with South Korea and its way of life, according to Park.