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Hanawon: South Korea's Resettlement Program for North Korean Refugees
January 20, 2013 12:28 PM   Subscribe

North Korea has been called the world's most repressive state [previously], but every year, two to three thousand North Koreans manage to escape to South Korea. Recognizing the potential for disorientation among the refugees and disruption for South Korean society, in 1999 the government's Unification Ministry set up a mandatory resettlement program called Hanawon--"one people". (It also screens the newcomers carefully for spies.) Last year, due to growing need, the government opened another Hanawon centre.

In addition to taking care of the refugees' physical needs (e.g. food, housing, clothing), Hanowan centres provide job skills training, language classes (there are some significant language differences between the North and the South) and social orientation to help prepare them for their new life. After graduation, they receive some financial and housing assistance...and then they must integrate into South Korean society. However, all is not necessarily happily-ever-after: Some are disappointed that South Korea is not the nirvana they thought it would be. Many suffer from psychological distress at the culture shock they experience. Some find they are treated as second-class citizens.

Although Hanawon has received criticism that it is not doing enough for North Korean refugees, some acknowledge that there is no quick fix possible for the issues inherent in resettlement. North Korean Economy Watch weighs in with an editorial that addresses some of the common complaints.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl (17 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a loaded question, but to what extent does the likelihood of defecting to South Korea depend on one's social status and financial means in North Korea? We've all heard of foreign engineers, academics, and medical professionals coming over to the US and finding themselves driving a taxi or doing some other low-status work. I wonder how many people Hanawon centers see are the mid-level functionaries and factory bosses who had some sway in North Korean society, only to find themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder and needing social assistance in South Korea. I suspect that we are at risk of missing a big chunk of the picture if we focus on the culture shock aspect (e.g., "there are ten brands of toothpaste at the store!") at the expense of the financial, employment, and education aspects of the problem. Culture shock goes away. The lack of recognized credentials, the lack of a family support network, and the stigma of suspicion tend to stay.
posted by Nomyte at 1:32 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


From my own reading, I'd say a lot of the escapees are military men, at least middle-ranking citizens, or else the very lowest social outcasts (like political undesirables). Your average peasant never has the opportunity to hear anything other than the strict party line, and so has no idea that anything better even exists; the ones who do escape either have absolutely no hope or else have an inkling that other places are an improvement.... and even a lot of the ones who do get out of North Korea think the South is in worse shape, so China is often the favored target.
posted by easily confused at 1:41 PM on January 20, 2013


Yes, some of the articles do mention that this is a big problem. For example, in the Brookings article ("Some find they are treated as second-class citizens"), the author quotes several of the people she interviewed who were elites/professionals in North Korea:
As one defector said, “I was a member of the elite cadre circle and now I’m a computer-illiterate senile old man.” And another, “I graduated from a good college but now I’m enrolled in a vocational computer school with youngsters.” And yet another, “I was a relatively wealthy foreign trader for the government but now I drive a pick-up truck and sell vegetables.”

South Korea is a status-oriented, conservative society—as is North Korea, although the status measures are quite different. In the South it’s not what position you hold in the ruling political party that matters but what schools you attended, what degrees you obtained, where you live, where you work, and what your family background is. Defectors bitterly joke that they left one class society in the North and now find that South Korea is equally class conscious, and the defectors are not members of a favored class.
Culture shock is a real thing, but is only the tip of the iceberg. I was interested at how many of the integration issues that the North Koreans struggle with are echoed by immigrants/refugees in other circumstances; for example, isolation, loss of status, and employment/social discrimination are experienced by newcomers here in Canada, too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:45 PM on January 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


(Oops, to be clearer, my comment was in response to Nomyte's.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:46 PM on January 20, 2013


I've always wondered how different the language divide between North and South was. I wonder what new vocabulary the North has introduced if any. I can't imagine that the language stayed completely stagnant. What was the dichotomy of the North and South linguistically before the war... I'm sure not nearly as severe, but there surely were regional dialects, yes? Did some of the people who support "Communism" move to the North from the South in solidarity with the revolutionary movement?

One of my favorite parts of the language article is the following:

"Political manipulation might be a reason for the North-South language divide.

As in many aspects of life in North Korea, language has been altered to serve the nation's rulers."
We're so enmeshed in our current system that we can't actually see that our language, too, helps serve the socio-political construct of our rulers. The rule of the invisible fist (as opposed to the iron fist of the Juche Ideal) has altered our language in many ways. How many words do we have now that started at corporate buzz-speak? How many words do we use as verbs that started as company names? How many words do we use that were military terms given to us in our various wars during discussion on television?

One thing about the West is that we're not nearly as cunning as we think, and it takes a bit to step outside our own conditional constraints to see the way language shapes and informs our views just as much as it does in more oppressive regimes. I think, surely, we have a more organic process with a tolerance for more cultural differences (LOLCATS anybody?), but to pretend that we don't have a vocabulary that is very specifically taylored to the cultural norms that dominate our lives and live in that bubble of language means we're just as much a slave to the cultural conditioning as they are.

The difference is, it's more obvious for them.
posted by symbioid at 2:03 PM on January 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


This reminds me of a book I read by a Russian who defected to the West from the GRU (the Soviet military intelligence agency) during the Cold War. He commented that a lot of Russian defectors ended up going back to the Soviet Union even though they knew there was a good chance they'd end up being arrested for treason.

One of his former bosses had a theory that although the standard of living was better in the West, what the Soviets missed was being more important than everyone else. It felt better to have a crappy car when no one else had a car at all than it did to have a good car when everyone else had a good car too.
posted by unreason at 2:04 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


From my own reading, I'd say a lot of the escapees are military men, at least middle-ranking citizens, or else the very lowest social outcasts (like political undesirables).

The UNCHR link says nearly 70% are female, though.

I've always wondered how different the language divide between North and South was. I wonder what new vocabulary the North has introduced if any. I can't imagine that the language stayed completely stagnant.

So, obviously, East and West Germany each had words for political and social structures that didn't exist in the other and the DDR words largely disappeared after reunification. But there was a lot of language divergence due to the fact that everyday stuff changed in 40 years. As a random example, in German overhead projectors are called Tageslichtprojektors or Overheadprojektors (actually Wikipedia has like four more names for them). In the DDR, they were called Polylux because that was the name they were marketed under and there was (essentially?) one brand. A lot of the examples are similar--they're things that didn't really exist before 1949 (or existed, but that people weren't really familiar with, like the overhead projector) or they're things where the brand name became the generic term. I don't know that the language diverged a whole lot other than in vocabulary. I think the DDR was less closed than North Korea is, so it's hard to know how comparable that situation is.
posted by hoyland at 2:56 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Having immigrated twice I can verify that culture shock is real and that it happens between just about every country. I always miss my home country, even when I am in it because it isn't the same place as the one I left 9 years ago.

You will always be at a disadvantage as an immigrant in a multitude of different ways. You lack some of the shared culture. You lack meaningful education and achievement signals. You are unpractised in the new social nuances. You will never again win at trivia even if you were Cliff Clavin in your country of origin. You have little to no social support network. You're so metaphorically naked you don't even have any personal enemies to struggle against yet you do have a multitude of faceless enemies who resent you for immigrating.

I've experienced this just by immigrating among very open and relatively liberal western English speaking countries that most people think of as sharing one culture and essential the same neo-liberal political philosophy.

So yeah. Immigration is hard. For these people it is at least double hard.
posted by srboisvert at 3:31 PM on January 20, 2013 [8 favorites]


One thing about the West is that we're not nearly as cunning as we think, and it takes a bit to step outside our own conditional constraints to see the way language shapes and informs our views just as much as it does in more oppressive regimes.

This is what gets me as a 20 year expat. Especially regarding the ex-communist world we characterize them as sullen, broken by their system, quick to doubt and of very little faith. Tolerant and accepting of corruption. Those poor bastards look what all those years of communist propaganda has done to them!

HEY RUBES! Their world fell apart, your fantasy land is still building cloud castles at full speed. You are swimming in capitalist propaganda and are not even aware of it!
posted by Meatbomb at 4:03 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've always wondered how different the language divide between North and South was. I wonder what new vocabulary the North has introduced if any. I can't imagine that the language stayed completely stagnant.

Although there are MeFites who know much much more than I do, I'm pretty sure that the language divide is gigantic. Apparently, South Koreans care a lot about dialect.

According to Wikipedia:

in South Korea, Standard Korean (표준어/標準語) is defined by the National Institute of the Korean Language as "the modern speech of Seoul widely used by the well-cultivated" (교양있는 사람들이 두루 쓰는 현대 서울말).

I've read that a major obstacle to reintegration is the fact that northerners do not speak this standard Korean.

More on North-South language differences.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:28 PM on January 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


This map is pretty interesting.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:29 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


How many words do we have now that started at corporate buzz-speak? How many words do we use as verbs that started as company names? How many words do we use that were military terms given to us in our various wars during discussion on television?

I think this is a really important point and underlines how difficult it is to assess one's own biases. There's a neo-Whorfian aspect here as well, and I'm sure George Lakoff would have a great comment on framing.

I also found this while poking around:
Study: female N. Korean defectors suffer depression, sexual abuse; Women face range of dangers en route to South Korea, then difficulty settling down here

The reason there are many women defectors, of course sadly, is that they are victims of human trafficking, often via China, where the client base are largely bachelors of Korean descent (of course, the birth laws in China have left many men unable to marry, probably especially those of minority ethnic groups). The other group does appear to be military-aged males involved in border defense or other jobs which give them easy access to escape.
posted by dhartung at 4:38 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think the language differences go beyond differences in jargon.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:52 PM on January 20, 2013


Some scattered thoughts.

1) There was a documentary series produced by the students of one alternative high school for North Koreans that included the stories of a few refugee teens/young adults who had chosen to seek asylum in Britain due to their frustration with discrimination and alienation in South Korea. For them, it was better to be an utter stranger in a culture and language with no bases of reference than to struggle in a society that constantly reminded them that they would never pass for South Korean. One youth said that after having left family and home behind once, it only got easier to uproot each time. I'll try to dig up the title, but I don't think it made it past the Seoul indie film festival circuit to any international festivals.

2) When I lived in Seoul, a friend who's volunteered with the refugee community for years connected me with a school for North Korean refugees. The English language class I co-taught briefly was supposed to help ease the stress of college-age North Koreans who were suddenly expected to thrive in a South Korean university system that assumes years of English language education. We talked instead about American hip hop, South Korean tv dramas (apparently there is a thriving cross-border trade in pirated videos) and whether they intended to settle in Seoul for the long term. Many said they hoped to move elsewhere.
posted by spamandkimchi at 6:18 PM on January 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


dhartung - "probably especially those of minority ethnic groups"

Probably less an issue of minority ethnic background as opposed to poor/rural. One child policy only applies to Han majority couples. Ethnic minorities can have as many offspring as they please without penalty.

As probably has something to do with the plight of N. Korean defectors to the South; defectors (:rural Chinese) don't have generally appreciated skills in a more developed economy/society (:Chinese cities).
posted by porpoise at 7:03 PM on January 20, 2013


One child policy only applies to Han majority couples.

Ah, thanks. I didn't know that! In any case, it seemed a window into a strangely attenuated subculture.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on January 20, 2013


I always miss my home country, even when I am in it because it isn't the same place as the one I left 9 years ago.

This is sad and lovely.
posted by DLWM at 8:09 PM on January 21, 2013


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