Academic journal article Asian Perspective

North Korean Migrants: A Human Security Perspective

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

North Korean Migrants: A Human Security Perspective

Article excerpt

The human security situation in North Korea is generally poor, with food security being a primary issue, resulting in a large number of migrants from the country. For those migrants who enter China, food security is somewhat improved, although at the cost of overall insecurity in one's everyday life. For those who enter South Korea, many problems are relieved, though new problems arise. Various agencies have implemented often-conflicting plans based around the central discourse of "human rights" to address the issue of North Korean migrants. However, the concept of human security seems equally appropriate. If the many stakeholders and agents involved share the responsibility for the larger purpose of building cooperative governance, placing importance on the North Korean migrants themselves for the ultimate goal of understanding the threat and suffering they have experienced, it will allow for a more holistic and comprehensive understanding of the issue, and improve North Korean migrants' human security in a more substantial and meaningful way. KEYWORDS: North Korea, human rights in East Asia, human security, nongovernmental programs.

SINCE 1990 THE NUMBER OF NORTH KOREANS FLEEING THE DEMOCRATIC People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) has escalated. Approximately thirty thousand to fifty thousand North Koreans are estimated to have migrated to China. At the end of May 2010 the number of North Koreans currently residing in South Korea had risen to nineteen thousand (see Table 1).

Existing studies on North Korean migrants have mainly dealt with the difficulties and experiences of North Korean saeteomins (resettlers) during their resettlement in South Korea, and have focused on finding solutions to remedy their problems. Other studies-though few-deal with North Koreans living in China or in other third countries. However, these studies fail to provide a comprehensive perspective on North Korean migrant issues. This article addresses this problem by examining the North Korean migrant issue from the perspective of human security, covering both time and spatial domains.

The concept of human security emerged after the ColdWar, since the traditional notion of national security could no longer explain the new security environment, marked by a rise in the number of civil wars, terrorism, and other causes of large-scale human suffering. The acceleration of globalization, diversification of enemies, and efforts to reduce these security threats all contributed to the emergence and acceptance of the concept of human security.

While the concept of human security is criticized for its vagueness and multiplicity, it nonetheless is still widely applied in various fields. The 1994 Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) is considered a milestone publication in the field of human security (United Nations Development Program 1994). It not only defined the term but also urged that understanding of global security be expanded to include seven areas of security: economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security. Economic security means that an individual should have a basic income, usually from productive and remunerative work or at least from a public safety net. Food security requires that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to basic food. Health security aims to guarantee at least minimum protection from diseases and unhealthy lifestyles. Environmental security aims to protect people from the short- and long-term ravages of nature, manmade threats, and deterioration of the natural environment. Personal security aims to protect people from physical violence, whether from the state or external sources, from violent individuals and sub-state actors, from domestic abuse, or from predatory adults. Community security aims to protect people from the loss of traditional relationships and values and from sectarian and ethnic violence. …

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