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Cablegate: North Korean Refugees: First Steps Into Rok Society

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DE RUEHUL #4282/01 3490905
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 150905Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1934
INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 7723
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 1845
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1746
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 6415
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1425
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2028
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0273
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 2420
RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA 8658
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 0077
RUDKIA/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0906
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 1255
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 0020
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 3047
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 0062
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 3238
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 1170
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 05 SEOUL 004282

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF PHUM PGOV PREL KTIP KS KN
SUBJECT: NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES: FIRST STEPS INTO ROK SOCIETY

REF: A. SEOUL 1837
B. 05 SEOUL 666
C. SEOUL 695

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Upon arrival in the ROK, North Koreans
undergo an interagency security screening process, during
which the ROKG seeks to confirm refugees' bona fides and
assess security risks. Thereafter, nearly all North Koreans
move to the ROK's Hanawon resettlement facility, where they
receive training to help them better adjust to life in the
ROK. The ROK provides North Koreans with housing upon their
graduation from Hanawon, and a network of government and
civil society organizations help refugees adjust to life in
their new communities. In light of security concerns, the
ROK provides North Koreans with personal protection officers
for five years after arriving in the ROK, and for longer
periods for high-profile individuals. END SUMMARY.

SECURITY SCREENING PROCESS
--------------------------

2. (SBU) After arrival in the ROK, most North Koreans are
sent to a screening facility for a joint investigation by
government agencies ) National Intelligence Service (NIS),
Ministry of Unification (MOU), Ministry of National Defense
(MND), National Police Agency (KNPA), and Ministry of Justice
(MOJ). According to Korea Institute for National Unification
(KINU) Senior Research Fellow Lee Keum-soon, the security
screening process served several purposes in the past,
including to gather intelligence and determine if individuals
were really North Korean refugees or instead North Korean
spies or ethnic-Korean Chinese. As the demographics of
refugees have changed, however, Lee said that the process is
primarily focused on ensuring that individuals are really
North Korean refugees and not ethnic Koreans from China.
(NOTE: Some North Koreans ) perhaps as few as ten per year
) enter the ROK under NIS protection and bypass some or all
of this process. END NOTE.)

3. (SBU) According to Lee, the security screening is
conducted at a facility in Seoul that is disguised as a
business. North Koreans live in a dormitory located on the
same grounds during the screening process, and also undergo
medical screening while at the facility. Lee Young-seok,
Program Officer with Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human
Rights, reported that the investigation is often completed in
two weeks or less, but the total length of time that refugees
spend at the facility depends on the availability of space at
the Hanawon resettlement facility. NGOs report that, in
most cases, North Koreans remain at the screening facility no
longer than one month. According to NGOs and refugees,
refugees are allowed to come and go from the facility once
their investigation is complete and until space is available
for them to enter Hanawon. One North Korean refugee who
arrived in the ROK in December 2000 told us that the facility
was clean and that he was able to explore the city after his
two-week investigation was completed. NGOs also told us that
the screening facilities were of acceptable conditions.

HANAWON
-------

4. (SBU) Following the security screening process, most North
Korean refugees enter the ROK's Hanawon resettlement facility
(Refs A and B). Pak Yong-sok, Director of Hanawon's
Education Planning Team, told Poloff on November 21 that
Hanawon's programs were shortened from twelve to ten weeks in
September 2006 to allow more North Koreans to pass through
the center. Shortening the program by two weeks has not
significantly reduced the amount of education trainees

SEOUL 00004282 002 OF 005


receive, Pak said. Hanawon has also initiated several
community-exchange programs, including job training at a
nearby polytechnical school and home-stays with South Korean
families. Such programs allow Hanawon trainees to interact
with South Korean society and gain real-world experience.
While Hanawon officially accommodates 400 trainees at a time,
the facility is currently over capacity. Hanawon plans to
build additional facilities, allowing it to accommodate
2,800-3,000 trainees per year by 2009, Pak said.

5. (SBU) Several NGO and community representatives who work
with North Korean refugees recommended that Hanawon's
programs be shortened further or conducted part-time to allow
North Koreans to receive an education on ROK society while
beginning their integration into it. NK Database President
Yoon Yeo-sang argued that learning about the ROK while
separated from ROK society is ineffective. Hanawon's Pak
acknowledged such concerns, noting that after having spent
time in confined shelters or detention in third countries,
refugees are anxious to start their lives in South Korea.
Several civil society leaders argued that the role of Hanawon
should be minimized, if not eliminated, in North Koreans
resettlement, and civil society organizations should instead
provide refugees with similar training in their communities.
Former Hanawon Director Lee Kang-rak, now Secretary-General
of the Association of Supporters for Defecting North Korean
Residents, said that the ROK is currently focused on
increasing the role of civil society organizations in the
resettlement process, but noted that this will require
increased coordination among such organizations.

ENTERING THE MAINSTREAM
-----------------------

6. (SBU) Upon graduation from Hanawon, the ROKG provides
North Korean refugees with housing assistance, either public
housing (provided through the Korean National Housing
Corporation or local governments), or 10 million KRW (USD
10,000) for North Koreans to obtain their own housing.
KINU's Lee reported that North Koreans who choose public
housing (87 percent according to MOU) are entitled to live in
public housing for an indefinite time period, and are
allocated specific amounts of space depending on the size of
their household. Refugees select where they want to live,
and most refugees opt to live in Seoul, even though the ROKG
provides incentives to encourage refugees to live in other
regions where there are greater job opportunities for
refugees. NK Database's Yoon reported that until recently,
North Korean youth who arrive in the ROK without their
parents were cared for by ten civil society organizations
designated by the ROKG, which ran group homes for them.
Since the opening of the Hankyoreh School (Ref D), Yoon
reported that the ROKG sends most such teenagers there, with
the role of the civil society organizations now unclear.

7. (SBU) Because of limited public housing in Seoul,
particularly with units large enough to meet the ROK's
requirements, North Koreans generally live in three public
housing areas in Seoul, according to NK Net President Han
Ki-hong. Refugees report that they are integrated with other
South Koreans in the housing complexes. Under the 1997
Protection Act, North Korean refugees are required to report
changes of residence, occupation or place of employment for
five years after their initial resettlement. (NOTE: All ROK
residents are required to report changes in their residence
under the Korean Identification (KID) system. END NOTE.)

8. (SBU) Numerous government agencies and NGOs play a role in
the resettlement of North Korean refugees. The MOU oversees
the ROKG's programs upon North Koreans' arrival in the ROK.

SEOUL 00004282 003 OF 005


The Ministry of Labor provides employment protection
officers, subsidizes North Koreans' wages to employers, and
recruits companies to hire North Koreans. The Ministry of
Education recently started to address the special education
needs of North Korean refugees, though KINU's Lee Keum-soon
said its role remains relatively limited. Numerous other
government ministries, including the Ministry of Culture and
Tourism and the Ministry of Information and Communication,
provide funding for civil society programs that assist North
Korean refugees.

9. (SBU) North Korean refugees are provided with two levels
of government support when they move into the community.
According to Ministry of Unification Director for Settlement
Support Suh Dong-hoon, each province has officials charged
with coordinating programs for North Korean refugees who
oversee a network of offices in their region. Each refugee
is assigned a welfare protection officer (currently 182
officers) in their locality who oversees the provision of
financial, medical, and social welfare assistance as well as
general counseling. These officers serve as the main liaison
point between North Koreans and the ROKG.

10. (SBU) The 1997 Protection Act established the Association
for the Support of Defecting North Korean Residents (Support
Association), a coalition of more than 60 civil society
organizations charged with assisting North Koreans in
assimilating into ROK society. The ROKG funds these
organizations to provide direct services, including
educational, psychological, and legal. The Support
Association also connects refugees with civilian resettlement
helpers called "Doeumis" (1,200 total), two of whom are
assigned to each North Koreans' household for one year,
according to Support Association President Kim Il-joo and
ROKG information. MOU has designated nine organizations,
including the Korean Red Cross and local welfare centers, to
implement the Doeumi program. Kim reported that the
volunteers bring North Koreans to their new homes, show them
around their new community, and help them with daily tasks
such as shopping.

11. (SBU) Poloff visited the Hanbit Social Welfare Center, a
participant in the Doeumi program, on December 4. Hanbit is
located in southwest Seoul, in an area home to more than 900
refugees, the largest concentration of North Koreans in the
ROK. The Center, located near public housing complexes where
many North Koreans live, occupies several areas of a building
that is decorated with children's artwork. According to Lee
Chul-yoo, Hanbit Director, the Center is one of six private
welfare organizations commissioned by the local government to
provide direct assistance to North Korean refugees in the
area. Working with the Support Association, the Center's
programs have continued to grow to serve the needs of the
large population of North Koreans in the area. According to
Lee Chun-shik, Director of Hanbit's North Korean Resettlement
Center, the Center receives funding from numerous government
agencies to provide psychological services, job training, and
educational programs, and facilitate exchanges with South
Koreans in the local community. Lee reported that the Center
works closely with the Support Association, other private
organizations, and local and regional government officials
who support North Koreans in the community through a
Coordinating Committee.

12. (SBU) Enlisting the support of local governments and
private welfare centers is part of a move toward
decentralizing MOU's programs for North Koreans, which MOU's
Director Suh said is the ROKG's current programming
direction. KINU's Lee said that decentralization of the
programs is important, as MOU does not have the expertise to

SEOUL 00004282 004 OF 005


provide all necessary services to North Korean resettlers,
but noted that interagency coordination needed to be
improved.

SECURITY CONCERNS AND PHYSICAL PROTECTION
------------------------------------------

13. (SBU) When North Korean refugees enter their communities
they are also assigned a physical protection officer through
the Korean National Police Agency. According to the ROKG,
approximately 700 officers have been assigned in local police
stations to provide advice to North Koreans on their personal
safety. These protection officers are provided to North
Koreans for five years, which could be extended for
individuals who face particular threats. As the number of
North Koreans in the ROK has increased, the ROKG can no
longer provide one-to-one protection as it had in the past.
According to NK Net President Han Ki-hong, on average, one
protection officer manages 40 refugees, offering limited
protection to most North Koreans. In special cases, however,
Han reported that the NIS provides additional protection.

14. (SBU) NGO leaders and refugee experts report that the
major security concerns that North Koreans in the ROK face
are threats from North Korean agents, brokers who helped
refugees get to the ROK, and threats from other refugees.
Many North Koreans also fear that public disclosure of their
identities could lead the North Korean regime to punish
family members who remain in the DPRK. Refugee experts and
NGO practitioners agree that the threat from North Korean
agents, while still real, has significantly decreased over
time. Shim Sang-don, Chief Human Rights Policy Analyst at
the ROK's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), said that
threats from North Korean agents were more prevalent in the
past, but have decreased as the number of North Koreans in
the ROK has increased and their demographics shifted away
from high-level refugees.

15. (SBU) NHRC Deputy Director Park Byoung-soo asserted that
currently, more security threats come from within the refugee
community than from North Korean agents. KINU expert Lee
Keum-soon said that some former government workers might face
threats from other North Koreans who had negative experiences
with these officials or others in similar positions in the
DPRK. Lee also said that many refugees commit crimes or
deceive one another in third countries as they compete for
survival, and may retaliate if they encounter each other in
the ROK. Lee added that threats from brokers to whom
refugees owe money for helping them get to the ROK are
another security concern that refugees face. One female
North Korean refugee reported that brokers often try to
collect on their debts after refugees graduate from Hanawon.

16. (SBU) NHRC's Park said that the ROKG continues to make
efforts to improve the protection officer system. The
objective of the system is to provide protection to the
individual, and for most North Koreans their physical
protection officer served primarily as a case manager or
advisor. Some individuals, however, may regard the measures
as surveillance, Park said. In particular, some female
refugees have felt violated by nighttime phone calls from
male protection officers calling to check on them. The ROK
reportedly is trying to designate female officers for the
growing number of female refugees. Overall, Park said, the
ROK is seeking to reduce measures that could be regarded as
surveillance and better identify refugees who need additional
protection so that the overall system is less intrusive.
Several years ago complaints about the protection system were
a major issue, but the ROKG has made substantial
improvements, Park said, and has been gradually decreasing

SEOUL 00004282 005 OF 005


the role of these officers in the resettlement program.
VERSHBOW

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