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Seoul to Help N. Korean Defectors Save Money


FILE - A North Korean defector carries a baby at the South Korean Hanawon resettlement facility in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul.

FILE - A North Korean defector carries a baby at the South Korean Hanawon resettlement facility in Anseong, 77 kilometers south of Seoul.

South Korea on Wednesday announced a new plan to help newly arrived North Korean defectors resettle in the South with financial assistance.

The “Future Happiness Account” is aimed at encouraging the defectors to save money. It provides matching funds and will be formally introduced in November.

“The system is geared toward assisting North Korean defectors with building their assets by matching the exact amount of their savings in this new bank account that will be launched this year,” said Lim Byeong-cheol, South Korea Unification Ministry spokesman.

North Koreans who arrive in the South after November 2014 and have established residence for more than six months and active employment status for more than three months will be eligible for the plan.

The government will assist the defectors up to $460 a month per person for as long as four years. If an account holder saves $460 a month, he or she will have accumulated $44,160 at the end of four years, plus interest, according to the Unification Ministry.

The latest announcement follows last year’s survey by the Unification Ministry, which showed the unemployment rate to be higher among North Korean defectors than it is among the general South Korean population.

Only 53 percent of working-age defectors were employed last year, 8 percent lower than the national average. Their average income stood at $1,350, two-thirds of national average.

According to the survey results, frequent job changes might have lowered their income. While South Koreans tend to stay with the same job for six years on average, the defectors stay only a year and a half.

A ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told VOA that the government hopes the new measure will encourage higher and longer-term employment among North Korean defectors, which in turn will help them build a solid financial foundation for settling in the South.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.

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