- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2006

SEOUL — Hong Tae-myong wanted to be a driver, but simply getting a license after defecting to South Korea wasn’t enough to get a job. He also had to lie about coming from North Korea.

“That’s how I got a job here so far. I learned this after dozens of rejections in job interviews,” the 30-year-old said yesterday, filling out his resume at a government-sponsored job fair for defectors.

“When I identified myself as a North Korean defector, they wouldn’t hire me.”

Mr. Hong was among about 500 hopefuls at the fair, part of government efforts aimed at helping defectors overcome the widespread prejudice they face in their new home.

When the two Koreas were locked in intense Cold War rivalry, North Korean defectors received heroes’ welcomes in the South and were given houses, jobs and other financial assistance. But with the number of defectors growing rapidly in recent years, the new arrivals are increasingly considered a social problem.

More than 9,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950-53 Korean War, with about 7,000 of them coming since 2002. The total number of defectors is expected to top the 10,000 mark early next year, according to the Unification Ministry.

Many defectors are thought to be living below the poverty line because they can’t get good jobs mainly because of a lack of education and widespread prejudice among South Koreans.

who view those from the socialist system as lazy.

“We have such concerns as well, but still, we wanted to give them equal opportunities,” said Cho Chong-pill, an official with a car-navigation system manufacturing firm who was at the job fair.

About 40 companies offered some 200 positions at the fair, mostly low-paying jobs such as janitors, porters and welders.

Mr. Hong, who fled his communist homeland in 1997 because he was “hungry,” said he hoped to get a driver’s job but was willing to take any kind of position.

“My family is going to starve to death if I can’t get a job soon,” he said, adding that he lost his last job about a month ago, when the restaurant where he was a parking assistant closed.

Even if they get jobs, most defectors say they are discriminated against in wages and promotions, according to a survey by South Korea’s National Human Rights Commission,

“When I identified myself as from the North in job interviews, employers said they would call me if they wanted to hire me, but they never called back,” Mr. Hong said.

There was no need to lie yesterday, so Mr. Hong wrote that he was from North Korea, graduated from high school and had a driver’s license.

“They promised to call me if they’re going to give me a job,” he said. “I hope they would really do so.”

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