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SOAS seminar: South Korean Resettlement Policy for North Korean exiles

Late notice of a seminar at SOAS today:

The Complex Effects of South Korean Resettlement Policy on the Social Class of North Koreans in South Korea

Dr Jennifer Hough (SOAS Centre of Korean Studies Research Fellow)
Wednesday 9 October 2019, 3:10pm
Room S113, Paul Webley Wing (Senate House), SOAS University of London
Open to students, scholars, public, alumni
This event is free, no booking required


In this paper I consider the complex and potentially contradictory effects of government policy on the social class of incoming migrants in the Korean context. Over 32,000 defectors from North Korea have arrived in South Korea since the end of the Korean War. Although early defectors tended to be elite North Koreans with the resources to escape, those leaving since famine in the mid-1990s have come from a wider cross-section of society – driven both by need and increasingly non-elite accumulation of economic capital. However, regardless of their class background, North Korean defectors often describe feeling like ‘second-class citizens’ in South Korea due to perceived discrimination and prejudice. In this paper I consider how South Korean resettlement policy both aids and hinders the integration of North Koreans into South Korean society. Based on 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork with North Koreans living in and around Seoul, I first outline the history of North- South Korean defection and South Korean resettlement policy. I then consider how resettlement benefits can be read as pragmatic support, before highlighting the ways in which these policies potentially limit North Koreans’ social mobility and integration. By presenting all North Koreans as low-skilled and uneducated on the one hand, but also privileging them above all other low-income earners on the other, these policies risk deepening the prejudice North Koreans already face. In light of these considerations, I highlight the role of state welfare policies in inadvertently perpetuating social exclusion of the migrants it aims to support.

Jennifer Hough is a social anthropologist (DPhil Oxford) with research interests in the politics of inclusion and exclusion in partitioned societies; language politics; social inequality, belonging and citizenship; charity, humanitarianism, and welfare. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Centre for Korean Studies at SOAS.

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