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Policy Study on Supporting North Korean Refugees in Seoul

Mun InchulㆍMeekyong Song

The population of North Korean refugees living in Seoul is the largest among metropolitan cities and the second largest among upper-level local autonomies (including Do-provinces). In contrast, the living standard of North Korean refugees living in Seoul is relatively lower than the rest of the nation. The economically inactive population rate of North Korean refugees in Seoul is 41.4%, compared to the national rate of 34.1%. The rate of Households with no employment is 35.2%, compared to the national rate of 29%. Livelihood Benefit Recipient and Medical Benefits Recipient rates reach 26.9% and 38.7%, respectively.

Although this is the case, North Korean refugees living in Seoul lacked government-funded support to increase their independence and self-reliance because they have exceeded the settlement support period (5 years). About 88% of the refugees in Seoul have settled for more than 10 years.

Seoul Metropolitan Government is obligated by law to play a more active role. According to Article 4-2 of the ‘North Korean Refugees Protection and Settlement Support Act’, the Seoul Metropolitan Government is obligated to promote continuous support for protection, education, employment, and medical care for the successful settlement of North Korean refugees. Article 3 of the ‘Seoul Metropolitan Government Ordinance on Settlement Support for North Korean Refugees’ also stipulates that the Mayor of Seoul should continuously support North Korean Refugees so that they could be successfully settled in the local communities. The Mayor of Seoul, as the head of upper-level local government, is also the ‘Head of Residential Protection’ responsible for supporting the settlement, self-reliance, and social integration of North Korean Refugees in Seoul. However, in reality, the role of SMG has been a formality, due to the centralized support system. Also, the current government's information-sharing system for North Korean Refugees is segmented, which makes it difficult to predict crises and link services at the local level. Although each district has a residential protection officer and a regional council, the level of operation was different and lacked a practical cooperative system between working-level officials and protection officers.

Therefore, we propose the following recommendations to improve Seoul’s Policy for Supporting North Korean Refugees in Seoul. First, the current policy plan should be amended to clarify its direction and purpose and to increase its effectiveness. Secondly, policy programs to support ‘employment & start-ups’ and ‘medical care’ should be strengthened. Thirdly, more customized policies and programs considering the characteristics of North Korean refugees living in Seoul should be implemented to increase self-support, independence, and social integration. Lastly, to identify the complex problems in the vulnerable and crisis households of North Korean refugees in Seoul, the “Seoul Metropolitan Government Checklist for Emotional and Psychological Stability, Vulnerability, and Crisis Status”, needs to be implemented along with the current government system. This checklist includes social isolation, safety and health, economic and living, stress, depression, and anxiety factors.