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Cablegate: North Korea Refugees Face Psychological Trauma

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PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #3531/01 3480334
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140334Z DEC 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7737
INFO RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 7033
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 3584
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 2162
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8384
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH 0342
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3720
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR 1602
RUEHVN/AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE 1216
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG 3541
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 003531

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREF PREL KS KN
SUBJECT: NORTH KOREA REFUGEES FACE PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA
(PART I)


1. (SBU) This cable is the first in a two-part series about
psychological issues facing North Korean refugees.

2. (SBU) SUMMARY: As the number of North Korean refugees
arriving in the South continues to rise, so too do the
accounts of harsh living conditions that North Koreans faced
on a day to day basis in the DPRK. Even more troubling than
the struggle to obtain daily nourishment and shelter are the
tales of torture and public execution that most North Korean
citizens are likely to witness at some point in their life.
For example, 86 percent of defectors in a 2005 Yonsei
University survey claimed to have witnessed at least one
public execution. Beginning with exposure to these types of
tragic experiences in North Korea, the vast majority of
defectors continue to experience various forms of
psychological trauma in China and other countries, continuing
even after they make it to South Korea. END SUMMARY.

-------------------------
STUDY: DEFECTORS AND PTSD
-------------------------

3. (SBU) In April 2005, Yonsei University Professor Dr. Jeon
Woo-taek conducted the first large-scale study on the
relationship between traumatic events and the prevalence of
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among North Korean
defectors residing in the Republic of Korea (ROK). According
to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
Disorders-IV (DSM-IV), PTSD arises in a person who
experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event(s)
that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury,
or a threat to the physical integrity of one's self or
others. Jeon's study showed that in addition to physical
trauma that individuals experienced themselves (e.g., rape
and unexpected sickness), PTSD could also develop because of
stress related to human relationships, such as concerns about
missing family members who had gone in search of food. Even
short of PTSD, it is generally accepted that defectors also
suffer from depression, anxiety disorder, and other mental
disorders.

4. (SBU) Dr. Jeon told us that North Korea has a strong
tradition of emphasizing family relationships and solidarity.
Therefore, if someone commits a political crime, the North
Korean government punishes not only this person but also
his/her family members as well. Since this method is used as
a powerful and effective means of controlling people, family
bonds and solidarity among North Koreans have strengthened,
and consequently, worry and concern about their family
members have become more intense.

5. (SBU) Jeon and his team of 19 psychiatry graduate students
conducted face-to-face interviews with 200 North Korean
defectors living in Seoul. Respondents completed a survey
where they were asked to document both the frequency and
nature of trauma that they experienced while living in North
Korea and in China, following their departure from the DPRK.
Of the 200 defectors surveyed, 59 were diagnosed with PTSD,
accounting for a 29.5 percent prevalence. Jeon noted that a
previous study of defectors living in China found a 56
percent prevalence rate for PTSD, suggesting that defectors
are able to reduce some aspects of anxiety and stress upon
being resettled in the ROK.

6. (SBU) Jeon's study also showed that a slightly higher rate
of PTSD diagnosis among women compared to men (31 percent and
28 percent, respectively). Jeon was surprised to find that
women showed a higher frequency of PTSD given that men
recorded a higher frequency of exposure to traumatic events
both in North Korea and China.

---------------------
TRAUMA IN NORTH KOREA
---------------------

7. (SBU) The Associated Press published an article on
November 27 that asserted public executions in the North were

on the rise, citing a recent execution where 150,000
spectators allegedly looked on as a firing squad executed a
factory chief accused of making international phone calls.
The article is based on a report from Good Friends, a South
Korean human rights NGO that provides assistance to refugees
in the PRC. The article went on to note that four other
public executions had occurred in recent months. The
representative of Good Friends, Venerable Pomnyun, explained
in the article that, "These executions are aimed at educating
(North Koreans) to control society and prevent crimes."

8. (SBU) Dr. Jeon's survey also found that the most common
forms of trauma (and the corresponding frequency of the
trauma among survey respondents) that North Koreans
experience are: witnessing public executions (86 percent),
witnessing the death of a family member or relative (81
percent), witnessing a severe beating (71 percent),
witnessing a punishment for political misconduct (65 percent)
and the death of a family member or relative due to illness
(61 percent).

9. (SBU) In addition to witnessing public executions, many
North Koreans have also personally experienced periods of
famine that were coupled with severe hunger or death due to
starvation. Professor Chung Byung-ho, a cultural
anthropologist at Hanyang University, told poloff that 70
percent of North Korean defectors came from the Hamgyeong
provinces in North Korea which were the hardest hit by famine
in the mid 1990s. According to Chung, this traumatic period
marked a turning point in the minds of many North Koreans
where they shifted from trusting the regime and its central
distribution system to living a life of "every man for
himself."

-----------
...IN CHINA
-----------

10. (SBU) Professor Chung also asserted that many North
Korean defectors spend a significant period of time in China
because they are able to justify in their minds that they
have not completely abandoned their family back in North
Korea as long as they remain in China. In fact, many of them
leave the North intending to work in China and send money and
supplies back across the border to their family in the DPRK.
According to Chung, once these refugees depart China or enter
the official pipeline to come to South Korea, it becomes
clear in their mind that they are never going back to North
Korea and that they may never see their family again - thus,
marking another significant turning point in the
psychological health of defectors.

11. (SBU) In addition, North Koreans living in China have not
been officially recognized as political refugees by the
Chinese government. As a result, they experience
considerable difficulty in finding food, water, and shelter
and live in constant fear of being tracked down by Chinese
authorities or by the North Korean secret police operating in
China. Experts and activists agree that DPRK refugees take
an enormous risk by entering and seeking shelter in foreign
embassies in China in an attempt to enter South Korea.

12. (SBU) In 2007, 77 percent of North Korean defectors
arriving in the South were female and sixty percent of them
are between the ages of 20 and 40. These demographics show
the high proportion of female refugees that are making their
way through China, often with the aid of unscrupulous
brokers. According to Professor Chung, even some of the
religious organizations that claim to be helping North Korean
refugees in China resort to various forms of abuse given the
uneven power structure that exists between the provider and
recipient of aid, while physical abuse is sometimes used by
these groups as a method to keep order among an unruly group
of defectors.

13. (SBU) In addition to the other forms of trauma, an
increasing number of North Korean female defectors are

reportedly being forced into marriages with Chinese men with
the intermediaries collecting a fee. Kim Choon-ae, a North
Korean defector now living in the South, told Voice of
America (VOA) that she was kidnapped in China by human
traffickers - something she says happens to many North Korean
women. When she and other women fought back, Kim said they
were turned over to police and eventually repatriated to the
North.

14. (SBU) In April 2007, the Korea Institute for Health and
Social Affairs studied the health of 6,500 North Korean
defectors who had arrived in South Korea between 2000 and
2005. It found a high infection rate for syphilis, at 1.8
percent in 2004 and 2.1 percent in 2005. Of 700 women aged
20-49 hosted at the ROKG's Hanawon resettlement facility
south of Seoul, one out of five suffered from some type of
gynecological disorder.

-------
COMMENT
-------

15. (SBU) North Korean refugees are one of the most
vulnerable populations in Asia. While the harsh conditions
within the DPRK drive many North Koreans outside of the
country's borders, there remains a long and treacherous road
ahead as they make their way to their final destination in
South Korea, the U.S., or elsewhere. To further complicate
the plight of these refugees, there are reports of ethnic
Korean Chinese who attempt to pose as North Koreans and seek
resettlement in another country, in addition to other refugee
benefits. Close cooperation and coordination between the
U.S. and ROK will continue to ensure that the U.S. is both
doing all that it can to assist North Korean refugees while
maintaining the integrity of our resettlement efforts.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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