The Challenges Faced by North Korean Defectors, and the Effectiveness of Ngos in Aiding Their Plight

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The Challenges Faced by North Korean Defectors, and the Effectiveness of NGOs in Aiding their Plight Sociology 250: Gabrielle Bishop
Instructor: Jerry Hinbest

North Korean refugees face a number of obstacles both prior to and after making the escape from a regime that has literally starved them from food, facts, and freedom. From the day they are born, North Koreans are effectively brainwashed by their government into believing that they live in a workers’ paradise, and that in comparison the outside world is a hopeless place. Most go onto believe this whole-heartedly, as outside ows of information (which could potentially expose their government) are essentially non-existent. However, in the wake of extreme food shortages, many citizens have decided to defect from the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK). The majority of which intend to make the journey north through China, to Southeast Asia, and nally reach South Korea, where they can be granted refugee status and be given nancial support from the South Korean government. Some opt to remain in China, where they accept to live as illegal aliens (Kim, H. K., & Lee, O. J. (2009). A Phenomenological Study on the Experience of North Korean Refugees. Nursing Science Quarterly, 22(1), 85-88) as the journey to South Korea can be long and expensive. Even if they are successful in completing the journey from North Korea to China, Southeast Asia, South Korea, or elsewhere, studies show that North Korean defectors are at a high risk of experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Jeon, W., Hong, C., Lee, C., Kim, D. K., Han, M., & Min, S. (2005). Correlation Between Traumatic Events and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors in South Korea. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18 (2), 147-154; Chung, S., & Seo, J. (2007). A Study on Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Among North Korean Defectors and their Social Adjustment in South Korea. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 12, 365-382). However, evidence has shown that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were successful in helping defectors adjust to their new lives outside of the DPRK 1

(Kim, J. (2010). A Study of the Roles of NGOs for North Korean Refugees' Human Rights. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 8.1, 76-90.). Unfortunately, due to the isolationist nature of North Korea, original research (and information in general) on related topics can be most difficult to nd. In conclusion, these refugees face a number of social, physical, and nancial barriers, starting from the way they have been brainwashed, and leading to potential mental health issues, even if their escape from North Korea is successful. However, rehabilitation for these refugees is indeed possible.

To understand any matter relating to North Korea, it is rst necessary to understand the context in which the nation operates. North Korea has been referred to as the most isolated state in the world (Kim, 2010); this is largely owing to the tight grip Kim Jong Il possesses over all state media in the DPRK. However, since the 1990s, more and more North Koreans have made the decision to defect (Kim et all, 2009; Chung et al, 2007). This tight grip also extends into the educational sphere, as research shows that North Koreas are trained to be suspicious of outsiders (Lee, D. (2010). Portrayals of Non-North Koreans in North Korean Textbooks and the Formation of National Identity . Asian Studies Reivew, 34, 349-369.) At rst, some

might attribute the rising number of defectors to the process of globalization, and the affects it could have on making sources of eye-opening outside media more readily available in the “Hermit Kingdom”. However, with the exception of a few upper-level party officials in the “Propaganda Department” entrusted with producing the only media allowed in the state, most average North Koreans have no way of understanding what basic human rights exist outside of the DPRK (Clippinger, M. E. (1981). Kim Chong-il in the...
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