Refugees in South Korea
South Korea today is considered an economic powerhouse, known for tech giants like Samsung and catchy Korean pop tunes. However, as a rising world leader, South Korea is also taking on more responsibilities for refugees, especially defectors from their neighbor to the north. Here are seven facts about refugees in South Korea:

  1. Some North Korean refugees in South Korea eventually became stars on South Korean reality TV. One show, “Now On My Way to Meet You,” features a panel of North Korean women who talk about life under the North Korean regime. The show’s staff also help the women track down lost family members and reunite them. Other shows pair up North Korean refugees with South Korean reality stars. Experts, however, are divided over whether this recent TV craze helps or hurts tensions with the North.
  2. In 1998, only 12% of North Korea refugees in South Korea were women. According to a survey conducted by a South Korean news agency, the percentage of female refugees jumped to 70% in 2012.
  3. Between 2008 and 2012, the number of North Korean defectors to South Korea who were of middle and high school age nearly doubled from 966 to 1,992. Refugee children, however, reportedly have a difficult time adjusting to school life in the South due to cultural differences.

  1. Refugee children have a middle school enrollment rate of 57.9% and a high school enrollment rate of 10.9%, compared to a high school enrollment rate of 98% for South Korean children.
  2. To remedy this problem, the South Korean government has tried implementing “special schools” for North Korean refugees in South Korea. Among the most well-known of these special schools is the Hankyoreh High School, which teaches refugees the national common curriculum and holds individual sessions to meet each student’s individual needs.
  3. South Korea, along with Japan, has among the strictest refugee policies. Since 1994, as many as 1,144 Syrian refugees have applied for asylum in South Korea, yet government figures show that only three have been approved.
  4. Despite a tight refugee admission policy, South Korea has donated a sum worth $500,000 to a U.N. agency to support Palestinian refugee children in Syria. The donation will be used to better the lives of young girls living in Palestine.

South Korea’s rapid economic success is seen globally as an economic “Miracle on the Han River,” but the prestige of economic success also comes with global responsibilities. One hopes that refugees in South Korea will find miracles of their own.

Mary Grace Costa

Photo: Flickr