Over the last 10 years 31 North Korean defectors have committed suicide and 72 have died for unknown reasons, an opposition party lawmaker revealed Friday.
Shin Kyoung-min of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), a member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee in the National Assembly, made public these figures, based on statistics from the Ministry of Unification (MoU).
According to those statistics, a total of 443 North Korean defectors had died in the past decade.
Shin criticized the MoU and Korea Hana Foundation for not knowing the reasons for the deaths of so many defectors.
“We should take a look into the reasons for the deaths of defectors who died amid our indifference,” he said in a press briefing. “We need to figure out the exact reasons and prepare a follow-up plan regarding the suicides and accidental deaths of young defectors.”
Nine people aged 10-20 have killed themselves since 2006. The average age of those who committed suicide was 41.
The main cause of death among defectors was disease, which claimed the lives of 209 defectors, or 47.1 percent of the total. Shin also pointed out that the specific diseases had not been identified.
“This is different from the other main national indexes which include the specific categorizations such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory ailments, digestive trouble, traffic accidents or industrial disasters, which implies an indifference toward defectors,” he said.
Information revealed by lawmaker Shim Jae-kwon, also of the NPAD, on Wednesday showed defectors’ low levels of satisfaction with life in South Korea, even lower than what they used to feel about living in North Korea.
Defectors described their social status in North Korea as “upper class” in 12.7 percent of cases, “middle class” in 36.6 percent and “lower class” in 50.5 percent. Currently in South Korea, only 3.3 percent of them said they are “upper class,” and 23.1 percent think they are “middle class.” Those regarding themselves as “lower class” amounted to 73.2 percent.
Those with expectations for future improvement have decreased from 75.4 percent in 2012 to 68.5 percent in 2014. Shim analyzed that this decline had been caused by their occupations, as 32.6 percent of them are performing menial labor. Their average salary is about 1.45 million won ($1,225) per month, or approximately 66 percent the national average in South Korea.
Shim also suggested that they should receive one year of vocational training at Hanawon. They are currently legally required to receive at least three months.
However, a statement from the MoU said that the defectors themselves did not consider this necessary.
Lee Han-do, who used to hire defectors from Hanawon, shared his experience of working with defectors.
“I’ve met many defectors suffering from mental illness and drug addiction because of trauma or torture during defection and their families being threatened by the North Korean regime due to their defection,” Lee told NK News.
Lee also pointed to defectors’ relative deprivation in South Korean society, which is very different from what they had imagined having viewed Southern TV dramas or movies.
“Some of them are (also) scammed (by immigration brokers), and fail to get citizenship as well as losing all their money. This causes economic hardship,” he said.
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Featured Image: Conditional Suicide- How Long? by Kazi Tahsin Agaz (Apurbo) on 2007-05-24 07:05:53