December 06, 2023

North Korean Refugees and the Challenges of Failed Assimilation

“The past always follows me, I will always be a North Korean, I will always be on the outside, and this is how I feel, like I am able to do things like interviews and documentaries, but I feel that it is hard to be on the inside, I feel that people and companies worry about hiring me because I am from North Korea”.

The above quote, taken from an interview with a North Korean man who has lived in South Korea for over five years, points to two prevailing factors amongst North Koreans residing in the South. Firstly, that North Korean refugees, for the most part, continue to feel ‘on the outside’ in South Korea; it can take years to develop a sense of belonging in their new home, if it happens at all. Secondly, that they feel more comfortable in the company of others who understand their experiences, that is, other individuals from North Korea. Concerned whispers regarding the inability of North Koreans to fit into South Korean society are nothing new, and perhaps it is time for South Korea to accept that assimilation is not going to occur as smoothly as planned and the time is ripe for other scenarios to be considered.