Unification ministry to help North Korean defectors become lawyers, doctors
2024-07-18 06:41:10

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks during a press briefing at the government complex in Seoul,<strong></strong> Friday. Yonhap

Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho speaks during a press briefing at the government complex in Seoul, Friday. Yonhap

By Kwak Yeon-soo

The Ministry of Unification is set to help North Korean defectors become lawyers and doctors in South Korea as part of its efforts toward integrating them into South Korean society and helping them rebuild their lives.

The announcement was made Friday as the ministry made its 2024 policy briefing to President Yoon Suk Yeol.

The ministry plans to enact a law in which the government can support law school tuition for North Korean defectors and ask the Ministry of Education to consider selecting them for the special admissions program of law schools. Currently, North Korean defectors are eligible to apply for special admissions for ethnic Koreans abroad and foreigners as part of a fixed quota system — allocated to up to 7 percent of total admissions.

There are only two North Korean defectors who became attorneys out of 34,000 defectors, according to the ministry.

A senior official at the unification ministry said that law school tuition is too expensive for North Korean defectors to pursue a law degree. Even if they are admitted to a law school, the pass rate for the bar exam is very low.

“For North Korean defectors, many of whom live in poverty and a state of uncertainty, rigorous admission standards and high tuition for law schools are a greater burden, so the government needs to lower the standards for North Korean defectors to enter law school,” a unification ministry official said.

The ministry will also expand the network of practical training institutions that can help North Korean defectors — who used to work as health professionals such as doctors, dentists or oriental medicine practitioners before resettling in South Korea — acquire relevant qualifications here.

When asked about a possible fairness issue, “I think the principle of fairness can vary depending on the situation we face and time we live in. North Korean defectors live in a reality where they cannot develop their skills because they were born in North Korea. By supporting them to acquire skills and qualifications, we can give hope to North Korean defectors and people living in North Korea,” Minister of Unification Kim Yung-ho said.

In addition, the ministry will push for mandatory unification education for teachers so that future generations will better understand liberal democratic unification and the human rights situation in North Korea.

The ministry also plans to purchase land and begin architectural design this year for the construction of a national center for North Korean human rights scheduled to open in 2026. It will begin construction of the Unification Information Resource Center as early as the end of this year and plans to open it in 2027.