In South Korea, resentment of refugees from the North | This Week In Asia
Every of the handfuls of pine bushes has a label hooked up, stating the title of the one who planted it, their hometown in North Korea, and the relations they left behind within the North.
On the centre of this park – which, when seen from above, is formed just like the Korean peninsula – is a monument with a poem, the primary line of which interprets as “Our want is unification”.
The park was in-built 2012 and is probably the most conspicuous signal of what makes this in any other case typical group of flat blocks and business streets distinctive: with round 1,400 North Korea-born residents, it has the biggest variety of North Korean defectors of any South Korean district.
Defectors have been initially drawn to this neighbourhood, referred to as Nonhyeon, as a consequence of its proximity to jobs at close by industrial complexes. Many have settled in its quiet, leafy residential blocks which have quick access to facilities, together with public transport.
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Whereas there are not any apparent indicators of tensions in Nonhyeon, right here and in different neighbourhoods with excessive numbers of defectors, South Korean media have reported instances of South Korea-born locals resenting defectors for the federal government advantages they’re entitled to, and opposing the institution of group amenities supposed to help defectors.
Whereas many South Koreans have an emotional eager for the unification of the peninsula, there are additionally many who fear that formally reuniting with the North could be a drag on the financial system, and that integrating tens of millions of North Koreans could be a expensive course of that may disrupt life within the South.
That pressure between the lofty purpose of forming one nation and sensible issues of methods to handle such a coming collectively is on the core of a debate taking part in out on a nationwide degree, because the left-wing administration of President Moon Jae-in is pushing for the legislature’s ratification of the settlement he signed with North Korean chief Kim Jong-un at a summit earlier this 12 months.
The settlement includes cooperative initiatives that South Korea would in all probability should pay for, and the right-wing opposition is resisting, arguing that it may very well be too costly to implement the phrases of the settlement.
Park Hyun-joo, a Nonhyeon resident and an workplace employee in her 20s, has no household connection to North Korea, however comes by way of the park recurrently to stroll her canine. “We’re all simply neighbours,” she says of the defectors she lives alongside. “All of us stay collectively comfortably.”
Park added that she has no defector associates or colleagues – and in accordance with current analysis by Sang Sin Lee, a fellow on the Korea Institute for Nationwide Unification, her scenario is just not distinctive. Lee has carried out surveys on South Korean attitudes towards North Korea, and located that 83.7 per cent of South Koreans have by no means met a North Korean.
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Few South Koreans are desirous to affiliate with defectors, who’re at occasions stereotyped as lazy or unsophisticated.
“South Koreans are accepting of North Korean defectors as an summary idea, so long as they don’t intervene with their private lives. I don’t assume that’s as a result of South Koreans are imply or something, it’s as a result of there isn’t sufficient interplay between the 2 teams,” Lee mentioned.
“The older technology view North Korea as an enemy, which implies North Korea and South Korea have equal standing. However younger folks view North Korea as dependent or a rustic that may’t maintain itself, as beneath South Korea.”
The South Korean authorities makes efforts to distribute defectors roughly evenly across the nation, thereby stopping the formation of neighbourhoods with massive defector populations; when defectors full their government-run programme meant to organize them for all times in South Korea, they obtain cash for housing and funds for residing bills to final them till they discover employment.
The housing cash comes with a string hooked up, in that defectors are usually not allowed free rein to decide on the place they may settle. “They’re often positioned in housing in consideration of their preferences and the residences of relations who entered South Korea earlier, however their location might also be decided by lottery, relying on the supply of housing within the areas the place they intend to settle,” says the White Paper revealed by the South’s Ministry of Unification, the physique that handles North Korea issues.
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In her memoir The Woman With Seven Names, North Korean defector Lee Hyeon-seo describes a tense ceremony the place defectors’ areas of settlement are introduced in accordance with a lottery. Solely a restricted portion of them are granted residence in Seoul, South Korea’s capital and financial epicentre.
As soon as settled in neighbourhoods the place they’re typically a tiny minority, many defectors report hiccups in forming bonds with their South Korea-born neighbours. A 2016 survey by the Dong-A Ilbo newspaper discovered that 62.7 per cent of defectors who responded mentioned that they had hassle speaking with South Koreans.
“South Koreans view us as individuals who don’t pay taxes and stay lives of celebration off taxpayer cash. However we pay taxes, we stay beneath the identical circumstances,” mentioned one North Korea-born Nonhyeon resident who responded to that survey.
“There’s a stereotype some South Koreans have of defectors as missing an entrepreneurial, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps spirit, being from a socialist nation and subsequently counting on authorities advantages,” mentioned Sokeel Park, director of analysis and technique for non-profit Liberty in North Korea. “In some neighbourhoods there may very well be a notion that North Koreans are receiving advantages that they don’t deserve, and that may result in tensions.”
Different consultants argue that along with getting ready North Koreans for all times in South Korea, it’s crucial to show South Koreans methods to be extra accepting of outsiders.
“It’s extra necessary to work on altering the South Korean majority than desirous about methods to educate the North Korea-born minority. There’s a want for schooling on how to not have an objectifying perspective concerning the folks you reside with, however there isn’t any such schooling,” mentioned Lee Woo-young, a professor on the College of North Korean Research in Seoul.
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Complicating the federal government’s efforts to spice up cooperation with North Korea, and defectors’ integration on the bottom, is the truth that the South’s financial system is slowing, and residents born listed below are discovering it harder to get by amid a rising value of residing and declining variety of steady, well-paid jobs.
Whereas South Korean residents and politicians differ on the perfect method to coping with North Korea and the query of attainable unification, Lee says there may be one matter on which practically all – no matter age, social class or political orientation – agree with: the necessity to prioritise the financial system.
“If requested to decide on between one thing that’s good for unification and one thing that’s good for the financial system, nearly everybody will select the financial system,” Lee mentioned.