December 08, 2023

Refugees, Defectors or Economic Migrants?

In a 2002 paper published on the growing numbers of North Korean refugees arriving in South Korea, Suh Jae-jean, now a senior research fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification, wrote that the time was right for a change in the names used to refer to people coming from North Korea to South Korea.  Suh explained that:

Changes in the reasons for, and the methods of defection have led to the issue of what to call North Korean defectors. North Korean defector (1962), brave North Korean defector (1978), deserted North Korean brethren (1993) or other various names were used, and since 1997 “Bukhan Yital Jumin” (defecting North Korean residents) is the official expression used to refer to the defectors. However, the word Yital (defecting) in Korean connotes “traitor” or “reactionary” thus North Korean defectors abhor that label. Moreover, it does not distinguish between defectors who entered South Korea and those who live in China or other countries