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Open Manifesto

Divided.

An essay by N.D, with photography by N.C.

{10th of March 2009}

 

There are about 16,000 North Koreans currently living in South Korea. At first, defectors were government officials who had the opportunity to work abroad and then made the decision not to go back. In exchange for important intelligence information they were given protection and support in the South. Now, as living standards have plummeted in North Korea in the last decade, defectors are more likely to be young people from the region along the Chinese border. They are usually uneducated and unskilled.

 

South Koreans generally feel some degree of obligation towards their neighbours but are becoming less willing to pick up the bill as their own economy feels the strain. Most North Koreans granted refuge by the South are given new names and avoid publicity for fear that if they become visible the regime will punish the family members they have left behind. Some of these young ‘settlers’, to use the most politically correct term, are now standing up to be counted, working hard to make change happen and daring to hope that a better future is within their grasp. 

 

Why study?

The Sennet School may be no more than a two minute drive from the glass and concrete towers of Yeouido, one of Seoul’s shiny new business districts, but it’s also half a world away. On the second floor of a slightly dilapidated four story building, Park Sang Young heads what he prefers to call an ‘education community’. Park takes in teenagers and youths who have escaped the brutally repressive conditions of North Korea. Sennet is where these young people must begin the difficult process of building a life after the discovery that the freedom they dreamed of also brings many challenges.

 

(The rest of this article is available, in print, in Open Manifesto #5)