NK defectors report abuse after arriving in South Korea

Posted on : 2012-10-26 15:36 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
According to recent survey, defectors are mistreated by NIS, then discriminated against in society
 Gyeonggi province.
Gyeonggi province.

By Hong Yong-duk, south Gyeonggi correspondent

“There is a saying that a person without a country is worse off than an ownerless dog….”

After defecting to South Korea, a 47-year-old North Korean was told by her National Intelligence Service (NIS) interrogator that her story “didn’t add up.” As punishment, she was forced to stand and sit repeatedly.

“I didn’t come here for this. Do I have to put up with that sort of thing to come to South Korea? I was weeping,” Kim said as she reflected on the painful memories of her NIS interrogation.

Another 59-year-old defector said she trembled with fear throughout her NIS interrogation, hearing the voice of another examiner cursing in the next room.

“Another woman around my age had come with two small children,” she explained. “She looked like she was eighty years old.”

“When she said she was born in 1954, the examiner screamed, ‘Why are you lying to my face? I was petrified,” the defector continued.

The Gyeonggi Province Family & Women Research Institute (GFWRI) released results on Oct. 25 from a survey on human rights violations administered to 400 North Korean defectors. 43.1% of respondents said they had felt scared or anxious because of the words or actions of an NIS interrogator or other official during their interrogation. 44.6% said they thought NIS officials had acted contemptuously toward them. But 90.6% said they quietly endured their treatment.

In-depth interviews were also conducted with 16 defectors, who were part of a larger that completed a written survey. Ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties, interviewees came from a variety of different occupations in North Korea, including pharmacist, clothing designer, television announcer, civil servant, and laborer.

The interviewees singled out their weeklong NIS interrogation after first arriving in South Korea as a “hellish” experience of terror and anxiety, during which they were kept in solitary confinement.

A 36-year-old female defector complained of having religious beliefs imposed on her by an examiner. “I thought South Korea was supposed to be a place where you have freedom of religion,” she said. “I was pressured to subscribe to a particular religion by the NIS [examiner]. I even had to come out to a prayer meeting at five in the morning.”

The NIS interrogation was followed by a difficult process of temporarily residing at the Hanawon resettlement centre in Anseong, Gyeonggi province, then settling elsewhere in South Korea. Participants said they worked fiercely to adapt, starting at the very bottom with restaurant work, but added that they continue to suffer employment opportunity restrictions, wage discrimination, and contempt and ostracism in the workplace.

The 59-year-old defector mentioned above said she graduated from university in North Korea and worked for 30 years as a television announcer before defecting. After arriving, she did kitchen work in restaurants while studying nursing.

“I worked as hard as I could,” she said. “It felt like my life was at a make-or-break point. But then I went to the hospital and was treated dismissively and discriminated against. They said, ‘What business do you have coming from North Korea and sticking your face in here?’”

47.7% of survey respondents said they had suffered disadvantages in employment since arriving in South Korea, while fully 25.5% said they were paid less than their South Korean counterparts because of where they were from. Perhaps as a consequence, 40.2% said they wished they could conceal their North Korean origins.

GFWRI researcher An Tae-yun, said “The results underscore the need for steps from the NIS and other organizations to protect defectors’ human rights and increase social awareness and defector self-esteem so they do not feel discriminated against while making a new home in South Korea.”

The number of defectors arriving in South Korea per year has risen consistently over the past decade, crossing the 1,000-person mark in 2001 and surpassing 2,000 since 2006. As of April 2012, a total of 23,568 had come to South Korea.


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