Once North Korean refugees arrive in South Korea, they will undergo a screening process for security checks and to verify if their claim of being North Korean is genuine. If they clear this stage, they will then be legally considered as South Korean citizens by law. After which, these refugees enter Hanawon, a goverment operated institution that house and educate the refugees for a period of 3 months. The educational courses include basic vocational training, lectures about Korean history and democracy, the concept of market economy, as well as psychological counseling, career-aptitude test, and health check-ups (Cho and Kim, 2011).
After the refugees leave Hanawon the state provides them with a one-time resettlement payment and housing assistance, and a “resettlement helper” is made available to the refugees for up to two years. There is no centralized agency that handles the assistance programs for North Korean refugees, which are scattered across a number of ministries and local governments. For instance, the Ministry of Employment and Labor operates a program that helps North Korean refugees by connecting them to potential employers, and the Ministry of Education operates academic assistance programs to help students adjust to school, such as extracurricular activities and mentoring programs (Kim, 2009). There are also similar programs by the Migrant Youth Foundation under the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family that assist North Korean refugee students. At the municipal and provincial levels, local authorities provide administrative assistance and often implement the programs funded and supervised by the national government.
I’ve mentioned in my previous blog posts of Heavenly Dream School (하늘꿈학교) as one of the schools in South Korea that caters to North Korean youth defectors.
However, there are other schools in South Korea for these North Korean defectors as well. Besides 하늘꿈학교 there is 여명학교, 한겨레학교, and 삼정학교.
These schools usually cater to students in elementary school all the way to high school, after which they will then enroll in local private / public universities. These students will receive full or partial scholarships depending on which university they enroll to.
But even with all these frameworks in place, it is still hard for the average North Korean to integrate into the South Korean society. There is an existing social prejudice and stereotype of North Koreans mostly by the younger generation of South Koreans.
As the result, many North Korean young adults and children feel alienated by the South Korean society, and find their South Korean peers difficult to get along with (Kim and Lee, 2012; Lee, 2001; Yoo et al., 2004, Jeon, 2000). Because North Korean children and teenagers are in a transitional period in terms of their identity formation they often feel insecure about their social positions in the society (Kim and Lee, 2013). As the result, refugee children in schools are often afraid to speak in North Korean dialect and hesitant to reveal where they originate, fearing that their South Korean peers may make fun of them (Jung et al., 2002).