To Be Legal or to Be Humanitarian?: Logic of Rescuing Defectors

[imText1]South Korean court recently ruled to nullify any contract between defectors and brokers. Brokers help North Korean defectors to sneak into South Korea and get paid in return.

On Sunday, Seoul Metropolitan West District Court ruled against plaintiff, a broker, who sued former defector, a forty-five year old female A. In a ruling, the court stated “H (the broker) exploited A’s inexperience and hastiness to profit exorbitant amount.”

H made a complaint against A to pay five million won (roughly 5,400 US dollars), the amount A made a contract to do so in China for helping her to defect to Seoul.

Such controversy between brokers and defectors have been ongoing problem for a long time. And many have argued the contracts between defectors in China and brokers to be illegal.

The court ruling is based on South Korean civil code article number 104, in which ‘any legal activity lack of fairness due to one’s inexperience or hastiness is nullified.’ However, as the district court ruled, is brokerage of defection really an ‘act of exploiting defectors to profit exorbitant amount?’

There are many different types of brokers; somebody who profit from helping defectors, and others who receive minimal amount of compensation, barely enough to take defectors to Seoul, with somewhat humanitarian intention.

The decision by court on Sunday, however, might cause all those “contracts” between brokers and defectors invalid, which would definitely reduce the number of brokers and extent of their rescuing activity.

As of now, most of defectors who entered South Korea are helped by those brokers. Defectors, who lack information and legal status, often find it extremely hard to find safe area or a route via a third country to South Korea. Until they are in safe area or Seoul, brokers provide them protection and ways to escape.

[imText2]South Korean government no longer offers protection for defectors at first hand for various reasons. Whatever the reasons may be, North Korean defectors are willing to pay a certain amount of money, which most of them do not have, in exchange of their freedom to go to Seoul. So defectors sign a contract with brokers to promise to take some of the government subsidy for settlement to reimburse.

An Inchon-based broker J said in an interview “Brokers are taking high risks because there’s no collateral but a piece of signed contract.” According to J it costs two million won to get a defector out of China safely. The cost includes food, transportation from northeast China to a country in Southeast Asia and bribe.

Since defectors do not have any money beforehand, brokers usually borrow money from bank with high interest. Thus, total cost could rise up to three million won to even five million.

Another broker K called the price “completely market price.” “This is not a risk-free business. If court nullify contract between defector and broker, there will be no more brokers, the only ones that defectors could ask for help.”

A broker from Busan, Y, told his experience. Y also went to court with a “contract” on his hand. In this case, the judge decided to let defectors pay at least some of the money.

Even defectors view the cash for entering Seoul as fair and legitimate.
Another K, a defector, said “I didn’t think even ten million won was too much to go to South Korea when I was in China. If there was no broker, I could’ve never escaped to South Korea.”

The district court’s decision might make in sense on the code. However, given harsh condition of defectors in China and South Korean government’s indifference toward them, brokers are necessary in rescue of wandering defectors.

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