The last weeks have seen more than a few articles bringing up once again the delicate issue of defectors’ integration (or, some might say, the lack thereof) in South Korea. While we occasionally hear of some success stories, the majority of cases tell us of a complex, often harsh reality for the thousands of North Koreans who have moved south of the DMZ. Whatever one’s view may be on the recent figures of double defectors, it is clear that there exists a percentage of North Koreans who are unhappy with their living conditions in the ROK and do think
Aside from political speculation, it is important to understand what brings former defectors to reconsider their choice and what their struggle to integrate means, in terms of reunification prospects. One thing seems to be clear: despite the effort made by the South Korean government in terms of financial assistance and education programs, Seoul is still struggling to manage the integration of a relatively small number of North Koreans, and we can only imagine the type of obstacles that a mass flow of citizens from the North would present. This is partly explained because the current divide extends beyond the mere economic disparity; sociocultural differences are presently stronger than any national rhetoric about racial homogeneity and more pervasive than any political statement made North or South about the need for reunification.
Gianluca Spezza earned his PhD in 2017 from the University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of Professor Hazel Smith, on the strength of research on the cooperation between UNICEF and the DPRK in education and childcare. Dr Spezza is an assistant professor of international relations and a senior researcher at the DPRK Strategy Center at KIMEP University in Almaty, Kazakhstan; he is writing a monograph on education, international cooperation, and human capital in North Korea (Palgrave 2021). His work on the DPRK, articles or interviews, can be found, among others, on the websites of the BBC, The Guardian, The Diplomat, IRIN News, NK News, DR.dk, Newsweek Korea, and El Confidential.