North Korean Defectors in the United States

Image representing face of refugees from Eritrea

Officially back on campus, I decided to get involved with Yale’s branch of THiNK, There’s Hope in North Korea, once again. Thinking back to my previous year as a volunteer for the organization, I remembered that we had been fortunate enough to hear the story of a North Korean defector now living in America. She had described how she had tried to defect from North Korea on more than one occasion. After the first attempt, she, her brother, and mother had been captured and sent to a detention center where they had been tortured. After she had one day escaped, she started a new life in the United States. Unfortunately, I do not remember enough of her story to form a narrative of her personal journey to America, whether or not she spent a lot of time in a third country or in South Korea before coming here. I only remember that she occasionally shares her experiences with others in the same way that she had for us undergraduate students. Continue reading

Unification: Not Only the Future but Also the Present


In my last article, I discussed the various different groups of defectors entering South Korea before and after 1994. In this article, I intend to go over the difficulties defectors experience in adjusting to South Korean society so that others may understand how the successful or unsuccessful integration of North Korean defectors is a reflection of the future of a unified Korean peninsula.

In my previous article, I had looked to Yoon In-Jin’s thesis North Korean Diaspora: North Korean Defectors Abroad and in South Korea for information on the diversification of North Korean defectors in South Korea. Yoon continues with a description of the stages of adjustment that defectors experience while in South Korea. After defectors undergo investigation through the Intelligence Command under the followed by rehabilitation and education at Hanawon centers, refugees are put under the guidance and protection of police officers for one or two years as of 1999. Yoon argues that the training that refugees receive at Hanawon and the guidance they receive from officers does not suffice their need for help to adjust to life in South Korea materially and mentally. Continue reading

A Week at a Refugee Center

By Jay McNair

The Ministry of Unification provides support to a North Korean refugee center in the green suburbs of Seoul. They also support refugee centers across the country, but this is the one I visited. Generally that support comes in as money, guidance, computers, and similar contributions, but this week it came in the form of two interns assigned to help the center’s youth director in whatever work he needed done.

If you’ve read any earlier posts, you might recall this youth director’s character as a double-cell-phone wielding dynamo driving a minivan. Ah, fond memories of that minivan. Continue reading

A Dinner With Defectors

By Jay McNair

I work in the Resettlement Support Division of the MOU; our department oversees various aspects of integration of North Koreans into South Korean society, including supervising the resettlement centers, monitoring North Koreans as they integrate, and deciding whether refugees with criminal backgrounds are entitled to citizenship or not. Obviously the work is very important, and the vibe in our division is quite busy and serious. Arthur (another intern in my department) and I joke that everyone is too busy to talk to us, but it’s kind of true. The phones ring constantly. Other workers in the MOU, when we share what department we’re working with, say, “Ah, the Resettlement Support Division. Very busy there, right?”

Continue reading