North Korean defectorsNorth Korea ranks among the poorest countries on Earth, with an absolute poverty rate estimated at 60% as of 2020. As a result, more than 30,000 people have made the harrowing journey to escape from the country to seek refuge in South Korea. Many choose to escape as a last resort, feeling that they are facing a choice between certain death and possible survival. The oppressive nature of the North Korean regime and the risk of starvation as a result of food shortages are the most cited reasons given by defectors who made the decision to escape from the North. No matter their reasons for fleeing, the trek from the North to the South is a daunting experience for North Korean defectors, even after they have successfully escaped.

The Escape

North Koreans have two options for managing escape from the country. Defectors can attempt to cross through the long, northern border with China, patrolled by both Chinese and Korean military. Once in China, escapees face the fact that it is illegal for Chinese citizens to assist North Korean defectors. Managing to covertly make it out of China and secure refuge in South Korea can therefore be extremely challenging.

However, the other option is notorious for its difficulty and risk—attempting to cross the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea. This is the most heavily guarded and fortified border on Earth, with guards patrolling both sides 24/7, barbed-wire fences, minefields, sensors and a 19-meter-thick concrete wall. The crossing has been even more impossible Since Kim Jung-Un closed the border completely in 2020 to stem the flow of COVID-19, according to CNN.

Therefore, the majority of defectors flee North across the Chinese border. However, no matter which route defectors choose to take, they risk life and limb in pursuit of a better life. The journey is extremely risky.

Arrival in a New World

For those who make it to the South, the struggle is unfortunately not over. North Korea has been insulated from the world and its political and technological progress for more than 50 years. The complete isolation from modernity that North Korean citizens face, in conjunction with distorted propaganda about the outside world, leads to confusion and overwhelm for those who make it out.

North Korean defectors describe bewilderment at things like brightly colored street signs, CNN reports. They have never used a cell phone, utilized public transportation, or had a bank card. The bits and bobs of advanced capitalism and democracy are completely alien to those who escape. As such, the relief they experience upon making it across the border lasts short for many, who realize they still have much to overcome.

However, the South Korean government provides comprehensive integration services for arriving refugees. “Hanawon” and is a three-month resettlement and training school, according to BBC. The program teaches refugees how to use an ATM, ride a bus and use a computer. They receive instructions on democracy and citizenship and advise on how to secure a job. Essentially, they also receive training to adapt to their community.

Afterward, the program provides refugees with a public housing unit, a housing subsidy, settlement benefits and an assigned police officer to check in on them every now and then. Beyond that, they are on their own, BBC reports.

Unexpected Struggles

Once left to fend for themselves, many refugees find that the things they learned in the classroom are inadequate or non-transferrable to the new world around them.

The difficulty and overwhelm can get to be so much that a significant fraction of refugees, a staggering 18.5%, report regretting making the journey to the South at all. They cite cultural differences, isolation, and economic problems as the cause.

This feeling of difference and isolation is largely the result of discrimination toward North Koreans. Identified by their accents, they are actively passed up on job opportunities and are treated with suspicion and contempt.  One defector described their treatment as akin to that of “cigarette ashes thrown away on the street,” The Conversation reports.

Further, refugees have almost universally experienced extreme trauma through their ordeals. Nine out of 10 refugees arrive with PTSD. However, counseling services through Hanawon are limited and need improvement, according to the BBC.

Mental health issues— exacerbated by feelings of isolation and lack of belonging— can blossom in these populations if left unaddressed.

The Fight for Change

Koreans are not content to allow discrimination and a lack of mental health care to fester among these extremely vulnerable refugees. Saejowi is a nonprofit in South Korea that is working to supplement the services of Hanawon and make the transition into the South more successful and painless for refugees.

Saejowi addresses mental health barriers by training and licensing escaped North Koreans to become counselors for their fellow refugees. To date, it has produced more than 220 licensed counselors and is working to expand its impact, according to its website.

Saejowi does not stop there. It also works to reduce cultural barriers and discrimination between North and South Koreans by sponsoring cultural exchange programs, including festivals, plays and potlucks.

Through these vital services, Saejowi is continuing to improve the lives of North Korean defectors that were able to make a miraculous escape from devastating poverty.

– Grace Ramsey
Photo: Flickr

 Korean War Facts
After World War II, the Korean War displayed the growing, global rivalry between the leading superpowers at the time, the United States and the Soviet Union. Engaged in “limited war,” the U.S. aimed to protect South Korea instead of totally defeating its enemy. The public was accustomed to total victories from World War II, therefore the Korean War is a forgotten war for many Americans. However, Koreans live and breathe the effects of the first “limited war” between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Below are crucial Korean War facts and how the forgotten war continues to impact Koreans.

Top Korean War Facts

  1. The Korean War (1950-1953), juxtaposed with Japan’s colonization of Korea (1910-1945), continued a painful history for many Koreans. As colonized people, Koreans suffered repeated abuse and violations. The Japanese forced comfort women, as young as middle school girls, to become sex slaves. Against their wills, Koreans were sent to work in Japan’s factories and to fight on the front lines of World War II. When the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the number of Koreans thought to be killed in the bombing was more than 20,000.
  2. In August 1945, the Japanese Empire fell, and two young colonels temporarily divided the Korean peninsula in half along the 38th parallel, without consulting the Korean government. The Cold War brought a new set of challenges. South of the border, the U.S. reluctantly backed Syngman Rhee, the anti-communist dictator. Supported by the Soviets, Kim Il Sung, the communist dictator, reigned north of the border. As South Korea prepared to elect their leader, the Soviet Union blocked free elections in the North.
  3. On June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th Parallel. After three days, South Korea’s capital, Seoul, fell to the communists.
  4. In July 1950, U.S. troops entered the Korean War. In the eyes of the U.S., the Korean War was a war against international communism. Harry S. Truman said, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one after another.” Sixteen U.N. members contributed combat forces that were led by General Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.N. forces in Korea.
  5. MacArthur’s Operation Chromite, a surprise amphibious landing at Incheon, dealt with skepticism because of the city’s narrow port and extreme tides. On Sept. 15, 1950, MacArthur’s amphibious assault successfully pushed North Koreans out of Seoul and to their side of the 38th parallel, shifting the tides of the Korean War.
  6. Yet MacArthur’s successes became a dangerous flaw. In the past, the general successfully defended Bataan and Corregidor; in World War II, he conquered the Japanese in the Southwest Pacific. After pushing the North Koreans back, MacArthur confidently pressed upward to achieve his vision of unifying the Koreas, ignoring Chinese warnings of retaliation in response to further U.S. encroachment near their lands. When his troops pressed forward into North Korea, China entered the war and annihilated South Korean and the U.N. troops.
  7. Fearing escalated fighting with China would draw the Soviets into the Korean War, Truman fired MacArthur for insubordination. MacArthur’s wishes to wage war conflicted with President Truman’s agenda to maintain peace in Europe. In one instance, the general publicly threatened to bomb China.
  8. Civilian casualties amounted to more than half of total casualties during the Korean War. (In 2012, the Washington Post argued that the U.S. largely ignores civilians who die in military interventions. When looking at Iraq and Afghanistan, the article argues that U.S. leaders, emboldened by the public overlooking the civilian costs associated with each war, pursue greater international interventions.)
  9. Although an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, the war technically continues today. In 1974, a North Korean agent assassinated Park Chung-hee, mother of current South Korean President Park Geun-Hye. In March 2010, a North Korean submarine torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46 sailors. To this date, a peace treaty has not been signed.
  10. After the Korean War, the U.S. national defense budget increased. South Korea immediately became poor; children survived on food donations like powdered milk. On the other hand, North Korea quickly recovered with Soviet and Chinese support. North Korea’s army became, and still remains, one of the largest armies in the world. However, North Korea‘s economy collapsed with the decline of the Soviet Union.

Today, South Korea has become the first nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to shift from being a recipient into a donor. In fact, since the 1960s, South Korea has increased its per capita GDP, which was once less than $40, more quickly than any of its neighbors. However, skirmishes between the two countries are frequent and fatal. Because the Korean War never ended, one wrong move could result in an expanded conflict.

Andy Jung

Photo: Flickr

Village_South_Korea_DevelopmentWhen people think of South Korea, they may imagine an export powerhouse replete with skyscrapers, neon lights and a booming economy. Few remember the South Korea of yesteryear, a war-torn nation with a GDP per capita of $70 in 1957, equivalent to Ghana. Even fewer recall the New Village Movement. To teach the world about this program that eliminated its extreme rural poverty, South Korea held its second annual Global Saemaul Leadership Forum (GSLF) from Nov. 24 to Nov. 27, 2015.

The New Village Movement is called “Saemaul Undong” in Korean.  Begun by President Park Chung-Hee, South Korea’s dictator from 1961 to 1979, it is based on a simple idea: community-led development. Park provided each of the nation’s 33,267 villages with 335 bags of cement, a half ton of iron rods and a plan.

The plan consisted of four steps that began with selecting community leaders and gathering seed money. Step 2 featured small meetings with villagers to persuade everyone to join. Step 3 was the main phase of the project, and involved modernizing homes, establishing cultural facilities and launching cooperative ventures. Lastly, villages would create their own newspapers, build city halls and partner with neighboring towns.

Within 9 years, rural income nearly sextupled from a household average of 225,800 won to 1,531,800 won. Thatched huts gave way to tiled houses across the country. Rural poverty decreased from 27.9 percent before the program to 10.8 percent after, and women gained a more prominent place in the local economy.New_Village_Movement

Due to the success of the New Village Movement, the United Nations recognized the program as a model for rural development. At the November GSLF conference in Daegu, more than 500 delegates from 50 countries gathered to learn more about the model. Countries with representatives included Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Myanmar, Mongolia, Sri Lanka, Honduras and Azerbaijan.

The primary aim of the conference was education for New Village Movement leaders in countries outside of South Korea. Leaders are trained at the Global Saemaul Undong Training Center in Seoul, but the conference provides a unique opportunity for them to learn from each other as well as their Korean mentors.

South Korea has made considerable progress in getting other countries to adopt its model. According to a press release in September 2015, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Korean government, created an updated New Village Movement called “Saemaul toward Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities” (ISNC). ISNC is being implemented in Bolivia, Vietnam, Uganda, Myanmar, Laos and Rwanda .

Whether the New Village Movement will flourish in other countries remains to be seen, but there is reason to hope. Sri Lanka has already implemented seven New Village Movement projects in its country. By following the Korean model, villages now have concrete roads, a city hall and electricity. One village has already seen its income quadruple through the addition of powered pottery wheels. This had the added benefit that local women could become potters.

People often dismiss efforts to eradicate poverty, but in truth, it has already been done. South Korea lifted millions of impoverished villagers out of poverty while entwining them in the larger fabric of the national community. As the New Village Movement spreads around the globe, millions more are sure to benefit.

Dennis Sawyers

Sources: Asia Foundation, Modern Ghana, Saemaul Undong, The Sunday Times, UNDP
Photo: Flickr1, Flickr

impoverished_North_KoreansNorth and South Korea have finally reached an agreement — putting an end to the tense military standoff that could’ve pushed the rivals to all-out armed conflict. In a joint accord, the two countries showed cooperation. Continued cooperation in the future could place South Korea in a position to help impoverished North Koreans.

In the newly established accord, North Korea “expressed regret” for the recent mine blasts injuring two South Korean soldiers. It also agreed to end its “semi-state of war” by pulling back troops deployed on the frontline. Likewise, South Korea agreed to turn off loudspeakers playing taunting propaganda messages across the border.

The two sides also agreed to work towards reuniting families separated by the Korean War. This is an especially significant step in the right direction, as it has remained a recurring point of contention for more than half a century.

Technically, the two Koreas have been at war for the past 60 years, since the Korean War ended with a ceasefire that was never officially ratified by a formal peace treaty. This technicality helps offer insight into the ambiguous, untrusting nature of Korean international relations over the past few decades.

Although countless issues between the two countries remain unsolved, things are at least looking up. South Korea’s lead negotiator, National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-Jin, explained that the agreement could provide a “new momentum” for future inter-Korean relations.

While he could have been alluding to a general improvement in their international relationship, his statement potentially carries even more meaning. Improved international relations between the two Koreas could specifically signify major changes for struggling North Koreans unable to escape poverty on their own.

In recent years, South Korea has become an increasingly influential power in global arenas. Rapid industrialization, economic modernization and an essential transition from dictatorship to democracy all worked together to achieve this important transition.

South Korea has emerged as a bridge connecting developed and developing nations.

Key leadership positions fulfilled by South Koreans have worked to solidify the country’s new role in world affairs. In March 2012, the Obama administration nominated President Jim Yong Kim, born in Seoul, Korea, as president of the World Bank. Presently, Ban Ki-moon of South Korea serves as secretary-general of the UN.

The original vision of the United Nations was to achieve an important balance: The UN was established in order to address the goals of the most powerful nations while still achieving inclusive global representation for underdeveloped countries. Leaders like Ban and Kim are working to achieve such global inclusion.

More and more, market economies and fairly representative governments are characterizing developing nations. Given this new trend, South Korea is ideally positioned to play a leading role in reducing global poverty.

Although it is tough to predict exactly what this means for North Korea, agreements like this are at least a step in the right direction. As our world becomes more interconnected, transnational issues like poverty can more feasibly be tackled from multiple sides.

Looking ahead, if the two Koreas were ever to reach a point of full-on cooperation, issues like hunger and poverty could become a thing of the past.

Sarah Bernard

Sources: Haaretz, Desert News, BBC, News Yahoo
Photo: Pixabay

luis cdebaca
During a recent Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on forced labor and modern-day slavery, Luis CdeBaca affirmed that countries in East Asia and the Pacific have made progress combatting human trafficking.

“Are we making progress?” asked Sen. Benjamin Cardin.

Luis CdeBaca, ambassador-at-large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, responded that improvements were clear despite some discouraging facts highlighted by the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report.

The first half of the hearing focused on this report, which was released in June. The report assigns tier rankings to countries based on their meeting or failing to meet set standards to stop trafficking. During the hearing, Sen. Cardin expressed his concern that, according to the report, 10 countries remained tier 2, perhaps indicating a lack of progress. CdeBaca noted that progress still occurred in these countries, but it was not significant enough to warrant an upgrade yet. He likened this progress to the difference between a “B that is an 80 and a B that is an 89,” in terms of the grading system of American schools.

CdeBaca’s testimony lauded in particular the Republic of Korea, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands for legislation passed to improve their legal capacity to fight human trafficking. China, Burma and Thailand saw improvements as well, but these were counterpoised and perhaps overshadowed by other shortcomings. Timor-Leste, Malaysia and North Korea were each singled out as countries severely hindering efforts to eliminate trafficking.

Tuesday’s hearing comes nearly one month after the Guardian reported fishing boats off Thailand were using slave labor to produce prawns sold in the U.S. and UK. CdeBaca pointed out that Thailand has been downgraded in its tier ranking mostly because of labor trafficking, rather than sex trafficking, issues—emphasizing to the Thai government the need to aggressively address forced labor.

Other witnesses at the hearing also commented on issues related to the forced labor crisis in Thailand. Both Jesse Eaves, the Senior Policy Advisor for Child Protection at World Vision, and Neha Misra, the Senior Specialist for Migration and Human Trafficking at the Solidarity Center, spoke of forced labor generally as a system in which men, women and children are led into slavery through the deception of employment agencies hired by (potentially American) companies. Misra also discussed in depth the supply chain issues that lead U.S. consumers to inadvertently support forced labor in foreign countries.

“U.S. companies have not done enough to prove to consumers that their supply chains are not tainted with forced labor,” Misra stated in her testimony.

— Ryan Yanke

Sources: Foreign Relations 1, Foreign Relations 2, The Guardian
Photo: Irrawaddy

The Korean Ministry of Health will contribute $6 million to the Global Fund for 2014-2016. An added $10 million will be paid by the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in annual installments of $2 million from 2013-2017 from a levy on all passengers leaving Korea on international flights. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria welcome this announcement from Korea, which is now doubling its contribution over the next three years.

Introduced in 2007, this 1,000 won (US $0.95) levy, known as the Global Poverty Eradication Tax, was primarily used to contribute financial resources in order to fight poverty and disease in impoverished nations. For the 2011-2013 period, the Republic of Korea pledged $6 million. It is now nearly tripling that past commitment.

“The Republic of Korea is a trend-setter in the use of innovative funding methods to help fight the three diseases,” said Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “In doubling its contribution, Korea is also leading the way for other G20 countries to follow.”

This contribution is a huge step ahead for the Republic of Korea, perhaps leading it on a path to achieving great power status. So far, it has contributed $19 million since it began providing financial support to the Global Fund in 2004. Perhaps this increase comes from the help that the Republic of Korea itself has received from the Global Fund. Since 2010, Global Fund grants in the Republic of Korea have funded the diagnosis and treatment of 120,000 cases of TB and the distribution of 710,000 mosquito nets.

“I hope that the decision of the Government of the Republic of Korea will help strengthen cooperation between my country and the Global Fund in financing for development in new and innovative ways in our fight against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.” said SHIN Dong-ik, Deputy Minister for Multilateral and Global Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea.

– Sonia Aviv

Sources:  Vaccine News, The Global Fund, Business Wire
Photo: CTV News