North Korean Refugees in the United Kingdom

Big Ben (Photo Credit: Mohammad Albeloushi/Flickr)

With their number increasing, many North Korean refugees are spreading all over the world after escaping through China and Southeast Asian countries. Many of them, about 25,000 as of 2010, settle in South Korea, where the government supports them throughout their first few years in their new homes. About 100,000 to 200,000 North Koreans are estimated to be in China, waiting to go to a different country, as they will be repatriated to North Korea if the Chinese police arrest them. They also go to different parts of the world: they go to the United States, other Asian countries, and Western Europe.

There are many protests going on in London all the time, especially with the Olympics right around the corner. The world is starting to turn its eyes to London, and many groups with different purposes are using this opportunity to raise their voices. Right next to the House of Parliament, where the famous Big Ben is, is the New Palace Yard with statues of noble figures from everywhere around the world, including Nelson Mandela and George Washington. Thanks to its location, it is a popular place for both tourists and demonstrators alike. Tourists, who come to enjoy London and immerse themselves in its historical and modern aspects, also learn about issues that are going on around the world and what people want the British government to participate in as they walk around the Yard. One of the newly posted signs is the “Help North Korean Refugees” sign.

New Malden, a town and shopping center in the London suburbs, has the largest community of South Koreans in Europe. The estimates of the Korean population range from 8,000 to as high as 20,000 people. Because of this characteristic, it attracts people of Korean heritage from elsewhere in the world, and North Korea is no exception. Not having learned English in North Korea as students, New Malden is an appropriate and comfortable place for the refugees. North Koreans form the ninth-largest national group of asylum seekers in the United Kingdom, with a total of 850 applicants, among whom 450 or more have applied for refugee status. This surpasses the number of North Koreans applying to escape to the United States, Canada, and Russia.

What makes the United Kingdom so attractive to North Korean refugees? According to a North Korean in New Malden, whose name is withheld, a reason is that it is one of the well-developed Korean societies in Europe and that British neighbors prefer the Koreans to other ethnic groups, as the British and Koreans are both self-contained, reticent, and desperate to avoid offense. Another is that Koreans are densely populated, whereas in other countries, Koreans tend to be more scattered.

Because the North Korean asylum seekers in the United Kingdom have obviously not settled in South Korea, they do not have any connections to the South Korean government. One of them said that he wished the Ministry of Unification would do a survey to obtain accurate information to see how many North Korean refugees there are in the world and to look at their living situations. This could be a great way to raise awareness of the dreadful human rights situation of North Korea to non-Koreans that have helped their local North Korean refugee neighbors. This will also let the world know about the importance of unification.

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