The Hankyoreh (January 23, 2012) has an interesting piece on the hardships North Korean defectors face in the United States.  Did you know that…

As of 2011, more than 400 North Korean defectors were living in the United States. That number has increased rapidly over the last five years. Last year, for example, 1,194 North Koreans chose the United States and Europe as their final destination for refugee status or exile, while 2,376 chose South Korea. In other words, one in three North Korean defectors is heading to countries other than South Korea. The number increases when taking into account those who went to the other nations through South Korea. In fact, the United States has emerged as the main destination for North Korean defectors since 2006.


For a long time, North Korean defectors preferred to go to Europe. In the early 2000s, European nations took in quite a number of North Korean defectors as refugees. Some went to Britain, others to Germany. Some moved to Europe via South Korea. That started to change in the mid-2000s when the British government caught a South Korean trying to defect as a North Korean and raised the bar for refugees. The United States, however, passed the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004 to allow for the immigration of more North Korean defectors.

As most of you already know – it is no easy task getting out of North Korea and finding refuge in a third country.  They are often robbed and abused by the citizens of the country they are passing through and  even by South Koreans in China.  And being granted refugee status is no guarantee of a good life – whether it be in South Korea where they have been likened as sources of  embarrassment or the United States.  According to the article:

In the United States, everyone in the family worked. His mother worked in a garment factory and the brothers in a fish store. Jang-gil’s father had difficulty adapting to his new surroundings. He kept changing jobs, from an eye glass factory to a laundromat to a fish store. His English didn’t improve either. He and his wife started fighting quite often. A Korean-American in Rochester remembers the father, Mr. Lee, saying, “My family and other Koreans, everybody alienates me.”

Apparently the strain became too much:

On June 18, 2011, he [Jang-gil] got home late at 11 o’clock and immediately dialed 911. His mother was lying on the floor bleeding. Fire engines, police cars, and an ambulance arrived to the house on South Clinton Avenue in Rochester, New York. Police discovered that Lee’s father had hanged himself in the attic. The North Korean defector, 54, had stabbed his North Korean defector wife, 48, during a quarrel and then killed himself.

We have seen other incidents in the United States where the defectors were allegedly ill-treated by those they trusted to help them, members of the church, and ended up taking their own lives – unable to deal with the shame or stress.  Mr. Marmot also posted about the troubles North Koreans living in LA had.

I do like the ending of this rather depressing article because it resonates of hope:

For the time being, his goal is to get out of Rochester. There are a few North Korean defectors in Richmond, Virginia. He plans to move there to learn how to fix cars, make some money and go to university. His brother, who is still receiving counseling, decided to stay in Rochester. They had to part from each other but had no choice. As Lee puts it, “I can’t stay here anymore. I want to forget everything and start anew.”