A majority of North Korean defectors feel job discrimination in South Korea, according to a survey released Thursday. The poll of 500 defectors, commissioned by the National Human Rights Commission, found those who fled the North feel uncomfortable at work, with 67 percent saying they faced discrimination.
Some 50 percent said they weren't being paid fairly or getting promotions, and 39 percent said they were shunned by colleagues. The number of North Korean defectors has been steadily on the rise in recent years, with many having difficulties adjusting to the capitalistic South.
Nearly 1,400 North Koreans defected to South Korea last year, bringing the total number of asylum seekers from the impoverished communist country to nearly 7,700 since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.
"I have difficulty in adapting to South Korean society due to language differences and I am afraid of speaking," said Kim Chung Chul, who came to the South in 2001 and now works as a bus driver. He said South Koreans often think he is an ethnic Korean from China because of his strong North Korean accent.
South and North Korea share a language but a number of differences have emerged in meanings of words because of more than half-century of division following the Korean War, along with the influx of foreign influence in the South compared to the isolated North.
But other defectors say they've succeeded in adjusting to South Korea. "I didn't feel any discrimination in my workplace as I quickly learned the South Korean way of speaking," said Ji Yeon, a North Korean defector now working as a nurse who declined to give her last name for fear of reprisals against relatives still in the North. "I am adapting to South Korea well."
The survey, conducted from July to October last year, stressed the need to address the difficulties North Korean defectors face on the job while calling for an expansion of educational opportunities and more financial assistance for them.
Last year, the South Korean government cut financial aid to North Korean defectors to 20 million won (US$20,600; Ђ16,800) per year from 36 million won (US$37,100; Ђ30,300) to prod them to stand on their feet and get jobs. Seoul also introduced an incentive system, providing an additional 15 million won (US$15,400; Ђ12,600) to North Korean defectors if they receive job training, reports the AP. N.U.