07/26/2023, 12.20
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'Our fight in Seoul for North Korean refugees'

by Alessandra Tamponi

Seventy years after the armistice that wounded the division, the general secretary of PSCORE, Bada Nam, recounts the commitment of his organization to help those fleeing Pyongyang to integrate into South Korean society. "Today it is increasingly difficult to escape: our task is to continue to remember the human rights violations perpetrated by the regime. The cause of unification is not made up only of political relations: it needs people's stories".

Seoul (AsiaNews) - July 27 marks the 70th anniversary of the armistice and the consequent division of the Korean peninsula. On the eve of this appointment, AsiaNews interviewed Bada Nam, general secretary of PSCORE, an NGO that since 2006 in Seoul has been taking care of the rights of those refugees who managed to escape from Pyongyang. Thanks to her training in international relations, Bada Nam works as a human rights activist for North Koreans and for Korean reunification: since 2012 she has also collaborated on various United Nations initiatives. To date PSCORE has supported over 1000 North Korean refugees. It counts on the collaboration of over 2,000 South Korean teachers and has published 18 books to prevent the world from forgetting the human rights violations taking place in North Korea

Dr. Bada Nam, what is PSCORE and what is your work?

PSCORE stands for People for Successful Corean Reunification. It was founded in 2006 by a group of North Korean defectors, South Korea and people from other countries. We mainly focus on supporting North Korean defectors and defectors students through education programs, advocating for nicer condition in North Korea and by providing reunification education to the younger generation. PSCORE ultimate goal is to advocate for human rights and to contribute to secure, successful and sustainable reunification of the Korean Peninsula  

How does PSCORE offer help?

PSCORE Operates thanks the donations of individuals and fundings from various organisations, we also get projects’ fundings from the Government and foundations. Some of toughest challenges we have encountered involve the limited support we receive from various sources, including the Government and other organisations, each organisation focuses on different areas and with the limited fundings available it becomes difficult to address all the aspects effectively. While the (South) Korean Government provides significant support for the daily life and the adaptation of North Korean defectors to South Korean society, there are still many areas that requires additional support. For example, we have a program that connects North Korean defector’s children and North Korean defectors teachers, by supporting the teachers we can provide more comprehensive care for the children. Other similar projects are conducted by the government, but they often support the North Korean defectors and Children separately, and the fundings are often insufficient. So at PSCORE we analyse the most needed aspects for the people and seek the missing fundings from the other organisations.  

What are the biggest challenges in the process of integrating North Koreans into South Korea?

There are numerous diverse and challenging aspects that cause problems and make difficult to point out the single biggest challenge that we face: the contrasting social systems between North Korea and South Korea. Upon arrival they (North Korean defectors) are expected to adapt smoothly because they can speak Korean but they soon realise that everything feels different, in culture, in society, in everything it is very hard to find who to trust, that for them it feels like they are in a different country without a reliable support system. One particular challenge lies in navigating unfamiliar social norms, for example in their previous town, even for Pyongyang, having access to running water or electricity 24/7 was not the case, so the wisdom was to consume electricity whenever it was available- they do not need to pay for it- however in South Korea they need to save electricity and they need to save the water because they are paying for what their usages, every aspect of there is different, what is wise in their society and what is not wise in South Korea is also different. Even for a simple task like going to a restaurant or to a market- supermarket or grocery shops-, to buy a meal becomes unfamiliar, the process of ordering or navigating the payment process. Seeking assistance can be overwhelming, additionally despite being able to communicate in Korean, the use of English words South Korea’s language makes it difficult for them to understand and effectively communicate with others, so the integration process of North Koreans into South Korea encompasses all range of challenges of steaming from the start, difference in social system and unfamiliar social norms and prevalence of English expressions.   

In the past PSCORE has directly taken part in North Korean rescue missions: how? And how has Covid affected this part of your work?

Rescue missions were feasible in the past, particularly during the when China’s development was not as advanced, however with the advent of technologies like facial recognition and increased data analysation it has become increasingly challenging for individuals to move within China without leaving traces, so our rescue missions paused prior to the covid-19 pandemics due to increased surveillance and restrictions. Unlike other kind of organisations who receive funding to bring back a significant part of individuals within significant budgetary limits, our approach focused on bringing back those who may have been overlooked or excluded, for example we encountered a case o involving young girl who suffered from severe frostbite to her foot. To ensure her safe return it required providing extensive medical care, including the difficult decision to cut her foot out, despite the risks and significant cost involved, we committed ourselves to remain in the hospital for over a month and facilitating the necessary treatment and successfully bringing her back to safety. But because of the current development in China and more surveillance system we aren’t continuing the rescue missions anymore, the Chinese government is also watching our activities a lot so we have now completely suspended our missions  

Why do you think the unification of Korea is still an important goal? What do you think could be the role of North Koreans residing in the South to achieve this goal?

North Korea has been widely criticised for its severe human rights violations including political repression, censorship, forced labour, lack of freedom of expression and assembly, and any aspect of human rights. Reunification is seen as an opportunity to address abuses and promote a unified Korea with a stronger commitment to human rights, democratic values and rule of law. So Korean reunification will provide us with an opportunity to work to improve human rights conditions for all its (Korean) citizens and ensure their fundamental rights and freedoms are protected. It also offers an opportunity to address the pressing human rights situation in North Korea. The integration of North Korea in a unified Korea would also be an opportunity to gain access to health care, improving living conditions as well as allowing the implementation of development programs for the improvement of infrastructures and public services, also reunification would contribute to international peace and stability, as North Korea has been a long-standing source of regional tension due to its nuclear weapons and frequent threats. It is crucial for North Korean defectors to assist South Koreans and other global citizens in comprehending North Korean society and the necessity for change. They can offer constant advice to make actual changes for the North Korean government and its people on the most practical approach and take an active role in leading their activities. To truly understand North Korea, it's not just about research reports and political talks but also about the personal experiences of North Korean defectors. 


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