About the Author
JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
Around 50 percent of North Korean defectors living in South Korea say they have experienced discrimination because of their background, a recent poll by a South Korean government-backed institute said on Tuesday.
The number of North Korean defectors in South Korea has more than tripled since 2006, the report said, creating a rising need to ensure more protection of defectors’ rights as prejudice and discrimination have increased.
“45.4 percent of defector respondents said they were discriminated against for their North Korean background,” the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s (NHRCK) report said, adding it was the committee’s first time conducting a “defectors only” human rights awareness survey.
“In response to the violation of human rights and discrimination they experienced, 27.7 percent of respondents said that they have ‘done nothing,’ 16.2 percent stated that they ‘asked for help from NGOs,’ 13.6 percent have requested for a correction to the person directly involved, or to a similar organization.”
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea was established by the South Korean government in 2001 to monitor human rights in the South. While it is government funded, it is independent.
South Korea’s Inha University led the survey, it said, with researchers from the school surveying 480 North Korean defectors above the age of 19 years old and holding in-depth interviews with 50.
The biggest violators of defectors’ rights in South Korea were journalists, 18.4 percent of respondents said, with the general public (16.5 percent), entrepreneurs (15.2 percent), care facilities workers (10.6 percent), and military superiors (8.5 percent), also named.
As for the cause of discrimination, economic status (16 percent) was a leading cause, with level of education (14.4 percent) and region of origin (12.2 percent) coming in second and third respectively.
Defectors chose “not being able to afford medical services” and having to work in “poor working conditions” as their two major experiences of violations of human rights in South Korea. Poorly administered social services and intrusion into private lives were also cited.
The number of North Korean defectors in South Korea in 2006 was 9700 – a third of the 30,000 defectors living in South Korea in 2016.
One defector said he could understand why “journalists” were cited as among the biggest violators of defectors’ rights in South Korea.
“For defectors, keeping our identity anonymous is essential, as many of us have families left in the North,” Kim Seung-chul, a representative of North Korea Reform Radio, told NK News.
“But journalists, many of them, do not take that aspect too seriously and forget to blur interviewees faces, not alter one’s voice, not use the alias… which can lead to a life and death situation for families left in North Korea.”
One long-time researcher on defector human rights said the South Korean government is trying to improve the situation as much as it can, but faces difficulties when it comes to allocation of funding.
“The problem with the current policies is that they are majorly focused on providing ‘material’ support,” said Kang Dong-wan of Dong-a University, who also works as chief of the Busan Hana Center, an institute that assists North Korean defectors.
“The national budget allocated to support defectors is not small. But, for example, even if the government helps the defectors get a job, they usually work in low-income jobs.”
With these difficulties in social advancement, South Koreans have developed negative perceptions towards defectors, Kang said.
“To overcome this, the budget should also be used to change South Koreans’ perceptions, but the government currently can’t, as it is allocated to spend on defectors, and not on the South Korean public,” said Kang.
While saying that there is much that South Korea could do to improve overall quality of life for North Korean defectors, the survey also vividly showed how they were treated in North Korea.
74.4 percent said they had not even heard the phrase “human rights” while they were living in North Korea, while 82.1 percent stated that they were not educated about their civil rights while living in the DPRK.
64 percent of respondents reported that they had witnessed public executions, 26 percent said they had experienced torture or cruel treatment, while 77.1 percent said gender equality was non-existent.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Screen captured from official Under the Sun trailer, edited by NK News