More North Korean defectors report dissatisfaction with life in South

Defectors face a distinct set of obstacles in the South, including economic difficulties, isolation and loneliness, all factors in the suicide cases reported.
By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |  Sept. 9, 2015 at 11:29 AM
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SEOUL, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- More North Korean defectors in South Korea are reporting they enjoyed a higher standard of living in the North, and their suicide rate has reached a new high since 2009, according to data from Seoul.

The data on North Korean defector suicides from South Korea's Unification Ministry showed that the suicide rate of 15.2 percent was about three times the national average, South Korean news outlet Money Today reported. South Korea also ranks first among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for suicides.

Won Hye-young, an opposition party lawmaker, said a total of eight North Korean defectors had killed themselves in 2015, the highest number of cases reported since 2009, when the rate was 16.7 percent.

"This is a serious issue -- North Korean defectors who risk their lives to resettle in the South are choosing suicide," Won said.

The South Korean politician said defectors face a distinct set of obstacles in the South, including economic difficulties, isolation and loneliness, all factors in the suicide cases reported. Won said comprehensive reform is needed in order to improve job prospects for North Korean defectors.

The statistics from Seoul indicated around three out of five suicides in the defector community involved young people -- possibly in their teens and twenties.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, opposition party lawmaker Shim Jae-kwon said he was "shocked" after learning of a recent survey from the Unification Ministry showing more defectors are worse off in the South.

Seoul's survey of 12,777 defectors, both male and female, was conducted in 2014. Researchers asked participants about their perceived socioeconomic status both in the North and South. Survey results showed that while 12.7 percent and 36.6 percent of defectors identified themselves as upper and middle class, respectively, in the North, the same group showed 3.3 percent and 23.1 percent identified themselves as upper and middle class in the South.

South Korean outlet News 1 reported positive feelings about South Korean life also have declined among defectors since 2012, when 75.4 percent said they were satisfied with their new lives. In 2014, that number was down to 68.5 percent.

Shim said better job training is necessary for defectors, many of whom are low-wage earners. Hanawon, South Korea's defector re-education center, currently conducts 12 weeks of job training for new arrivals.

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