The Challenges Faced by North Korean Defectors

The Challenges Faced by North Korean Defectors

The Challenges Faced by North Korean Defectors, and the E? ectiveness of NGOs in Aiding their Plight Sociology 250: Gabrielle Bishop Instructor: Jerry Hinbest North Korean refugees face a number of obstacles both prior to and after making the escape from a regime that has literally starved them from food, facts, and freedom. From the day they are born, North Koreans are e? ectively brainwashed by their government into believing that they live in a workers’ paradise, and that in comparison the outside world is a hopeless place.

Most go onto believe this whole-heartedly, as outside ows of information (which could potentially expose their government) are essentially non-existent. However, in the wake of extreme food shortages, many citizens have decided to defect from the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK). The majority of which intend to make the journey north through China, to Southeast Asia, and nally reach South Korea, where they can be granted refugee status and be given nancial support from the South Korean government.

Some opt to remain in China, where they accept to live as illegal aliens (Kim, H. K. , & Lee, O. J. (2009). A Phenomenological Study on the Experience of North Korean Refugees. Nursing Science Quarterly, 22(1), 85-88) as the journey to South Korea can be long and expensive. Even if they are successful in completing the journey from North Korea to China, Southeast Asia, South Korea, or elsewhere, studies show that North Korean defectors are at a high risk of experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Jeon, W. , Hong, C. , Lee, C. Kim, D. K. , Han, M. , & Min, S. (2005). Correlation Between Traumatic Events and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors in South Korea. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18 (2), 147-154; Chung, S. , & Seo, J. (2007). A Study on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors and their Social Adjustment in South Korea. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 12, 365-382). However, evidence has shown that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were successful in helping defectors adjust to their new lives outside of the DPRK 1 Kim, J. (2010). A Study of the Roles of NGOs for North Korean Refugees’ Human Rights. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 8. 1, 76-90. ). Unfortunately, due to the isolationist nature of North Korea, original research (and information in general) on related topics can be most di? cult to nd. In conclusion, these refugees face a number of social, physical, and nancial barriers, starting from the way they have been brainwashed, and leading to potential mental health issues, even if their escape from North Korea is successful.

However, rehabilitation for these refugees is indeed possible. To understand any matter relating to North Korea, it is rst necessary to understand the context in which the nation operates. North Korea has been referred to as the most isolated state in the world (Kim, 2010); this is largely owing to the tight grip Kim Jong Il possesses over all state media in the DPRK. However, since the 1990s, more and more North Koreans have made the decision to defect (Kim et all, 2009; Chung et al, 2007).

This tight grip also extends into the educational sphere, as research shows that North Koreas are trained to be suspicious of outsiders (Lee, D. (2010). Portrayals of Non-North Koreans in North Korean Textbooks and the Formation of National Identity . Asian Studies Reivew, 34, 349-369. ) At rst, some might attribute the rising number of defectors to the process of globalization, and the a? ects it could have on making sources of eye-opening outside media more readily available in the “Hermit Kingdom”. However, with the exception of a few upper-level party o? ials in the “Propaganda Department” entrusted with producing the only media allowed in the state, most average North Koreans have no way of understanding what basic human rights exist outside of the DPRK (Clippinger, M. E. (1981). Kim Chong-il in the North Korean Mass Media: A Study of Semi-Esoteric Communication. Asian Survey, 21(3), 289-309. ). Thus, case studies have shown that the vast majority of refugees choose to ee because of hunger and/or economic reasons (Jeon et al, 2005; Robinson, W. C. , Lee, M. K. , Hill, K. , Hsu, E. , & Burnham, G. (2001).

Demographic Methods to Assess Food Insecurity: a North Korean Case Study. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 16(4), 286-291. ) – this would also explain why the numbers of refugees 2 increase when insider reports of famine increases (Jeon et al, 2005). However, these studies (which all demonstrate evidence of famine) blatantly contradict the North Korean government’s constant “reassurance” that there is no shortage of food within the DPRK (for example, the “Dear Leader” recently made a visit to an apple orchard in rural North Korea which was publicized in an approved North Korean news service.

The article gave the impression that agriculture in the DPRK is ourishing, and that farmers and consumers alike are all satis ed. [Kim Jong Il Gives Field Guidance to Ryongjon Fruit Farm. (2011, October 3). Korean News]) However, history and past studies have shown that after the death of Kim Il Sung (North Korea’s “Great Leader”) in 1994, a series of natural disasters leading to food shortages in the DPRK occurred. In 1995 and 1996, severe ooding; in 1997 a large-scale drought (Jeon et al, 2005). This brought about extreme food shortages, placing millions of people at risk of starvation1 (Robinson et al, 2001).

About 75% of the North Korean population are eligible to purchase subsidized food rations via the government’s Public Distribution System (Robinson et al, 2001) Ration portions vary depending on age and occupational status (“o? cially”, adults receive 700g of grain a day; children 500g; and elderly 600g – however, recently-arrived North Korean respondents to a survey conducted in China noted that these were grossly in ated numbers, and that most people receive much less) (Robinson et Al, 2001). Despite this, many Koreans still starve.

This has led to many having ed north of the border, to China, where despite the fact that basic social services cannot be guaranteed (the Chinese government does not permit North Korean refugees to stay in China, and has a policy to deport said refugees), defectors can at least have access to food via setting up their own small-scale farms. Studies estimate that between 50,000 and 150,000 North Koreans are temporarily living in China, because of this (Robinson et al, 2001). 3 Even after making the journey to China, through Southeast Asia, and nally to South Korea, studies show that many North Korean refugees battle against ental health issues, like PTSD (Yu, S. , Jeon, W. , Cho, Y. , & Eom, J. (2008). Traumatic Experiences and Mental Health of North Korean Refugees in South Korea. Psychiatry Invest, 5, 213-220; Chung, 2007; Jeon, 2005; etc). A study undertaken in 2007 collected data via interviews with North Korean defectors aged 18 and up who had been admitted to South Korea since 1990 and had been there for at least 3 months post-completion of the government’s protective management course at the Hanawon training centre. The results of this study found the following: “… 60 of the 133 subjects (45. 1%) fell within the high-risk group, leaving 73 persons (54. %) in the low- risk group. This meant that almost half of the subjects remained exposed to PTSD risks. The mean total score for social adjustment of the high-risk group was 34. 22, and that of the low-risk group was 36. 51; the 2. 29-point di? erence between the two groups was found to be signi cant, t(131) 1? 4 2. 098, p ; . 05. These results adequately re ect the reality that the social adjustment of the high-risk group was poorer than that of the low-risk group, also suggesting that PTSD deserves more attention when considering the likelihood of social adjustment success among North Korean defectors. ” (Chung, 2007).

This study, like many others, showed that along with other issues (ex: problems with family relationships and nancial management) the overall level of social adjustment among North Korean defectors in South Korea was rather low (Chung 2007; Kim 2009; Yu, 2008). The Chung study noted that it would be bene cial, based on the ndings, to institutionalize a mental health intervention system in order to act preemptively against defectors becoming at risk for PTSD and any other mental health issues, and that a follow-up management system emphasizing support among defectors in their new local communities must also be 4 stablished (Chung, 2007). The Chung study also noted that special care must be directed towards female defectors in their adaption to South Korean society, as they are often at risk for sexual abuse, among other di? culties, that their male counterparts are not faced with however, in spite of this, female defectors still demonstrated lower levels of PTSD symptoms and social adjustment than their male counterparts (Chung, 2007).

One gap in the Chung research project was that it failed to address the issue of North Korean defectors’ past traumatic experiences, and that it acknowledged that more in-depth data on the subject should be collected for a more holistic understanding of North Korean defectors’ social adjustments to life in South Korea. Most NGO activities for North Korean refugees are focused on providing humanitarian aid and protecting their rights in other countries, particularly China (Kim, 2010). In a study done in 2010 by Jungin Kim, four NGOs working to support North Korean defectors were analyzed. Human Rights First was the rst NGO to be studied.

Research showed that the organization had attempted to improve standards for DPRK human rights, and despite being unsuccessful in passing the North Korean Refugee Act of 2002 in the USA, continued to ght towards the establishment of a human rights protection-related law (Kim, 2010). In the second case study, Japan-based Life Funds for Korean Refugees (LFKR) was examined. LFKR helped play an instrumental role in the resettlement of DPRK defectors in Japan. (Kim, 2010) As well, LFKR established and maintained secret routes within North Korea, where food was successfully delivered to starving people (Kim, 2010).

LKFR is known to also work alongside Christian Solidarity Worldwide (UK), Human Rights without Frontiers (Belgium), the US Defense Forum (USA), and Durihana Mission (South Korea), in e? orts to build a network of NGOs across the world, united by a common cause (Kim, 2010). Furthermore, the study found that through providing an English-language website and equipping its sta? with language skills and other cultural background knowledge, LKFR was successful in gaining international attention from journalists and building networks with other NGOs and government o? ials (Kim, 2010). The Seoul-based NGO known as the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human 5 Rights (NKHR), has taken an educational approach through training North Korean refugees upon arrival in the south (Kim, 2010). NKHR provides refugee resettlement, various training and cultural programs, publication and academic activities, etc. (Kim, 2010). The study found that these initiatives have indeed proved successful; NKHR’s only barrier to extending its programs to more defectors being funding (Kim, 2010).

Finally, World Vision was the last NGO studied. While the other NGOs focussed on providing education or resettlement services to defectors, World Vision was found to take a more humanitarian approach to aiding North Koreans (ex: providing them with relief kits in response to the ooding in North Korea) (Kim, 2010). While many of these NGOs were found to play a positive role in helping North Korean citizens and defectors, Kim also notes that a possible issue with NGOs is that many compete for limited resources and recognition (Kim 2010).

As well, he notes that it has been disputed whether or not NGOs can truly remain independent, or “third-party”, in the sense that the limited money that does go towards the NGO can come with political strings attached (Kim, 2010). He also points out the obvious danger that NGO workers put themselves in when dealing with North Korean and Chinese human rights a? airs, citing the instances where two LFNKR aid workers were arrested and thrown into Chinese prisons, as China maintains the philosophy that human rights are not universal, but rather are subject to each respective country (Kim, 2010).

In conclusion, research shows that the types of struggles North Korean defectors face are emotional, mental, and economic, among other things. The defectors often choose to ee North Korea due to extreme food shortages, and are met with a world of shock after being exposed to the outside world (as the state media in North Korea is highly regulated and controlled). This shock often manifests itself in the form of PTSD.

Several NGOs are trying to address the issues faced by North Korean refugees, through a variety of methods, including: humanitarian aid, social support, education, training programs, emotional & mental support, refugee resettlement, etc. These programs are generally quite successful, but are in need of 6 funding. In closing, research demonstrates that there is indeed hope for North Korean refugees, and with the right capital, surely they will be able to have a better life postdefection. 7 References: Chung, S. , & Seo, J. (2007) A Study on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors and their Social Adjustment in South Korea.

Journal of Loss and Trauma, 12, 365-382 Clippinger, M. E. (1981). Kim Chong-il in the North Korean Mass Media: A Study of Semi-Esoteric Communication. Asian Survey, 21(3), 289-309. Jeon, W. , Hong, C. , Lee, C. , Kim, D. K. , Han, M. , & Min, S. (2005). Correlation Between Traumatic Events and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors in South Korea. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18(2), 147-154; Kim, H. K. , & Lee, O. J. (2009). A Phenomenological Study on the Experience of North Korean Refugees. Nursing Science Quarterly, 22(1), 85-88 Kim, J. (2010).

A Study of the Roles of NGOs for North Korean Refugees’ Human Rights. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 8. 1, 76-90 Lee, D. (2010). Portrayals of Non-North Koreans in North Korean Textbooks and the Formation of National Identity . Asian Studies Reivew, 34, 349-369. Robinson, W. C. , Lee, M. K. , Hill, K. , Hsu, E. , & Burnham, G. (2001). Demographic Methods to Assess Food Insecurity: a North Korean Case Study. Prehospital and Disaster Medicine, 16(4), 286-291. Yu, S. , Jeon, W. , Cho, Y. , & Eom, J. (2008). Traumatic Experiences and Mental Health of North Korean Refugees in South Korea. Psychiatry Invest, 5, 213-220. 8