The difficulty that many North Korean refugees encounter trying to establish new lives in the South is an ongoing concern. Earlier this month, the Ministry of Unification announced a new pilot job training program.
As described by Yi Whan-woo in the Korea Times, “the program is designed to train defectors as welders, construction machinery operators, computer programming testers and textile workers for hanbok, or traditional Korean clothing, through five to six months of instruction.” The program will include four courses, based on previous work experience, addressing standard South Korean language, understanding a capitalist society, how to behave in the workplace, basic computer skills, and foreign languages.
Specific vocation training will be outsourced to institutions such as the Korea Institute of Construction Technology Education, Volvo Construction Equipment Korea, the career development center run by Samsung SDS, a software firm under Samsung Group, and the association of the country’s hanbok manufacturers. MOU indicated that it will provide placement services upon successful completion of the course.
Once this pilot program is completed, MOU will assess its results, with an eye toward informing future efforts.
In the meantime, some refugees have indicated that they would like to do their South Korean military service, currently prohibited legally. According to reporting in the Korea Herald, the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis claims that 7 out 8 North Korean refugees would like to fulfill their national service. The story quotes an unnamed refugee who understandably views the ban as expressing a lack of confidence or support. The report also cites a survey showing that a majority of South Korean university students, a component of the conscript pool, believe that the refugees should be exempt from service, most citing national security concerns. The report does not provide any indication of the views of the broader South Korean public.