Fresh Effort Needed for Refugee Support

[imText1]The treatment of physical and psychological disorders should be prioritized in order to increase the labor power of North Korean refugees in South Korea and to foster their economic independence.

A professor of social work at Daegu University, Kim Yeon Hee believes, “The influence of not only mental health issues resulting from a variety of violent and traumatic incidents, but also addictive behaviors such as alcoholism arising in their aftermath, on the ability of refugees to lead self-supporting lives is huge.”

Kim was talking at “A Special Symposium for the Era of 20,000 North Korean Breakaway Citizens,” an event on the 2nd sponsored by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea and the Center for North Korean Defectors.

Professor Kim emphasized the importance of maintaining the health of refugees, saying, “The health condition of recent refugees who were in their childhood during the food shortage in the mid-1990s is known to be extremely weak. After being released from Hanawon, nutrition and illness-related health problems cause the condition of many to deteriorate, resulting in their incapacitation.”

She contrasted the Korean situation with the U.S. refugee assistance systems, emphasizing that in the U.S. “interventionist measures regarding physical and mental health are actively implemented, and treatment to remove factors that can pose a handicap to refugees’ independence have become essential.”

“The predominance of females among refugees in recent years means an influx of the most destitute population but, fortunately, most of the women are in their 20s~30s, which eliminates the dual factors of being a woman and advanced age. However, the number of female heads of household with young children is on the rise, resulting in a vulnerable situation where a majority remain economically inactive,” she went on.

“Investment in human capital is important. In particular, diverse psychological and societal educational support services and mid-way drop-out prevention programs are critical anti-poverty policies which can guard against a vicious cycle of poverty,” she elaborated.

Lee Ki Young, a professor of social work at Pusan University, explained, “After allowing the admission and resettlement of refugees, the U.S. focuses on their employment and economic success, and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the federal government has organized a taskforce for promoting the economic independence of refugees. In South Korea, self-support and independence are proposed as the items of utmost priority.”

But he pointed out, “In South Korea, where even low-level employment isn’t guaranteed for the refugees, whether or not to pursue an early stage policy for promoting independence such as in the U.S. should be carefully considered. In particular, many North Korean breakaway citizens have debts after using brokers before entering South Korea, so their actual economic situation is quite precarious and they have a high desire for an income to bring in additional family members, but it is difficult to find ideal results from work.”

“In South Korea’s case… employment aid programs which provide opportunities for one to climb in the workplace, as well as institutional supplements that can guarantee the integrity and increase the gains from employment, should be strengthened,” he proposed.

Additionally, “We have to make an effort so that the localization of resettlement support can be achieved. To achieve this, three-way collaboration between central government, provincial governing bodies and civilian organizations should be strengthened, and budgetary distribution and work responsibilities ought to be effectively realized.”

Lee Geum Soon, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for National Unification, agreed, “The number of North Korean breakaway citizens differs significantly by region, so it is important, at the very least, to build a system which allows the provision of standardized service unrelated to the refugees’ region of resettlement,” he asserted, “There has been interest from central ministries and offices at the policy level, and even institutional supplements are in place, but interest among regional units has to increase.”

SHARE