May 28, 2023

Hogwarts for Defectors: Turning North Koreans into South Koreans

The South Korean government is certainly trying to make the integration of North Korean defectors work, but mixed messages are not helping mutual understanding.

Seven North Korean defectors sit shyly through a ceremony celebrating the end of their three-week life-skills course at a regional resettlement centre. Traditional songs from the northern provinces are sung, two small defector boys giggle their way through a north Korean lullaby and speeches are made on the challenges ahead. Of the seven defectors, only one is male – a statistic that is reflected throughout the defector population in South Korea, 70% of whom are women.

Upstairs, fifteen women are hard at work inserting computer chips into plastic moulds. My host, one of the centre’s vocational skills trainers, tells me that the defectors are a valuable source of factory labour to the city, known for its manufacturing industry.