NHRCK Chairperson’s Statement on Striving for Inclusive Society for North Korean Defectors
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea(Chairperson Doohwan Song) hereby releases Chairperson’s statement regarding the case of a North Korean Defector going back to the North and the follow-on measures taken by the authorities.
The number of North Korean defectors in the Republic of Korea has already reached over 2,000 in 2006 and as of the end of 2021, the number is now at around 33,800. Since the legislation of the 「Act on the Protection and Settlement Support of Residents Escaping from North」 in 1997, the Government of the Republic of Korea has been operating various resettlement programs in different regions, coordinating with the Settlement Support Center for North Korean Refugees(also known as “Hanawon”, meaning the “house of unity”), local Hana Center, and local governments.
However, the fact that there were around 30 defectors, who sacrificed everything to escape North Korea, chose to go back to the North from the year 2012 to 2020 shows it is extremely difficult for North Korean defectors to successfully integrate into South Korean society.
Ministry of Unification released the ‘research on vulnerable group of North Korean Defectors’ on 6 January 2022. According to the statistics, 47% of the respondents expressed emotional and mental distress, and the most immediate and problematic issue the defectors face is ‘cost of living(25%)’ and the other criteria such as ‘education(22%)’, ‘mental health(20%)’, ‘family issues(4%)’ followed.
The fact-finding survey conducted by the NHRCK in 2017 regarding ‘traumatic human rights violation issues experienced by North Korean defectors’ revealed that over half of the respondents(56%) are in clinical condition from the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 25% of the respondents are in high risk of committing suicide and from the year 2016 to year 2020, the suicide rate of the defectors doubled the suicide rate of the general public, with one in ten people committing suicide.
Taking the cases of the re-defection and the results of the aforementioned surveys into consideration, the priority seems to be revising and further improving the resettlement program for North Korean defectors, including the strengthening of the social safety net and the process of overcoming the state of social isolation, in order to help them adapt to the new environment.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea has been working to protect the rights of North Korean defectors through providing recommendations to improve relevant policies so as to stop discrimination issues and to promote the defectors’ right to work. The Commission is now in the process of reviewing the adequate ways to improve policies for North Korean defectors who are going through post-traumatic mental distress.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea will continue to monitor the resettlement program for North Korean defectors and contribute to making more inclusive society, where the defectors do not feel socially isolated due to the discrimination and prejudice from the general public.