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South Korea Expands Training for New North Korean Arrivals

South Korea has formally inaugurated new training and orientation centers for North Koreans who have fled their country. The centers are a part of a dramatic expansion of South Korea's efforts to help North Koreans deal with the jarring adjustment to capitalist life and political freedom.

South Korean Unification Minister Hyun In-taek applauded Friday's opening of three new centers for helping North Korean refugees make the stark transition to their new lives as South Korean citizens.

He says more than 15,000 North Koreans have defected to the South. Government and all of society need to be concerned about the defectors, he adds, because the matter has become very important.

Most of the North Koreans who now live in the South fled their country beginning in the mid-90s, due to political repression and severe food shortages brought on by North Korea's economic mismanagement. Most of them cross the northern border into China, and make a dangerous and illegal journey to South Korea.

By law, they are automatically South Korean citizens upon arrival. However, adjusting to everyday life South Korea's fast and intensely competitive capitalist system is a source of traumatizing culture shock. Some defectors turn to addictive behaviors like drug use and gambling, while others resort to crime.

Until now, new North Korean arrivals have received three months of orientation at a facility called "Hanawon." Now, the Hana centers will provide them with an additional three weeks of attention. Hu Young-chol directs one of the centers, in the South Korean city of Daegu.

He says the centers will focus on giving the defectors practical local information related to finding a job.

The centers aim to teach basic job-seeker skills such as preparing a resume, and interviewing procedures.

Lee Hae-yung, the director of the Seoul-based Association of North Korean Defectors, arrived in South Korea years ago. He says the new centers are a welcome investment.

He says back when he emerged from Hanawon, he still did not even know how to open a bank account, and had a lot of difficulty finding employment. The Hana centers, he says, will be very helpful in getting defectors to adapt.

Thirteen more Hana centers are expected to open around South Korea in the next two years.