The appearance and disappearance of asylum seeking families
from the DPRK in Canada
Researchers: Ann Kim1, Sean Chung1, Jack Kim2, and Shine Chung3
Affiliation: York University1, HanVoice2, and KCWA Family and Social Services3
Research Partner: HanVoice and KCWA Family and Social Services
Keywords: asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, North Korea, DPRK, secondary migration, migration policy
Go to: Methodology, Findings
Objective: This study explored experiences of North Korean migrants in Canada, including their integration trajectories, motivations for migrating, and memories of home.
Justification: Between 2010 and 2014, hundreds to thousands of asylum seekers from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK a.k.a. North Korea) arrived in Canada hoping to obtain refugee status. Some initial applicants were accepted, while most of the later applicates were rejected because they had originally applied for asylum in South Korea. In 2018, some refugees who had been approved were subsequently informed that their status was under review leading to deportations. This brief and fleeting wave of North Koreans, who will soon escape research attention, raises many questions for Canadian policymakers and practitioners.
Practical goal: To give policymakers and practitioners a better understanding about this wave of North Korean migrants, focusing on trajectories, motivations, experiences and memories of home of North Koreans living in Toronto
Primary audience: Policy makers, service providers, academics, and Korean immigrants
This study employed six individual interviews and one focus group discussion with North Korean families living in Toronto, local experts and community leaders, and KCWA settlement workers. It asked the following questions:
North Korean motivations to leave South Korea were focused on the push factors in South Korea – speaking to the ambivalence which South Koreans feel for those from the North, and the inability to return to North Korea. Social and economic discrimination, and subsequent integration challenges, emerged as the key reasons for leaving South Korea. This secondary movement can be described as a secondary “defection” due to this perception and treatment of North Koreans as the “undesirable desirables” and the policies and practices in South Korea and Canada which entangle North Koreans in ways that undermine their ability to settle permanently.
Memories of Home and the Identity Issues:
North Korean youth spoke of old and new memories, including old memories of home, both joyful and painful, and their attachments to North Korea, along with the forging of new memories and life in Canada. These experiences informed their identity as ‘North Korean’, which in the Canadian context was accepted and to some extent, embraced, and as a ‘defector’, which elicited more mixed emotions.
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