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Shortsighted North Korean Defectors Resettlement Policy in South Korea: Policy Analysis and Alternatives

Eleanor Yoon, University of Southern California

Starting in the mid 1990s, the South Korean government began to notice a dramatic increase in the number of North Koreans defecting to the South. As of March 2013, the number of North Korean defectors in South Korea has reached over 24,000, and their demography has changed as well, from mostly male to female defectors and high class government officials to lower class families. The increase in number and the shift in demography triggered the South Korean government to overhaul and revise its defector-related policy and programs. Yet, shortsighted and top-down North Korean defector resettlement policy by the South Korean government hinders integration prospects, such as employment and sustainable livelihoods, of North Korean Defectors living in South Korea, as indicated by high unemployment and economic inactivity rates (7.5%; 45.9%), high number of North Koreans in precarious and unskilled jobs (77%) and high number of low-income families (28.9%) (MOU, 2012; ICS, 2011).

Lack of adequate mental health care services, discrimination and prejudice of both North and South Koreans, a highly centralized government and lack of partnership with NGOs are all determining factors of the problem. After investigating different policy responses and interventions and assessing them, this policy analysis paper proposes three different policy options. The three policy alternatives have been evaluated using six evaluative criteria—cost, effectiveness in improving mental health, employment, integration, political feasibility and implementation feasibility. Finally, a recommendation combining Alternatives 2 and 3 is made for the MOU’s future considerations.