Seoul Lawmaker Seeks to Establish Commemorative Day for North Korean Defectors

SEOUL — Rep. Ji Seong-ho, a former North Korean defector who has since become a lawmaker for the ruling People Power Party, has introduced legislation aimed at creating a commemorative day to recognize North Korean defectors. The announcement was made by his office on Saturday.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the new bill seeks to amend the North Korean Defectors Protection and Settlement Support Act to establish July 8 as the official day of remembrance for those who have fled the North. This date marks the anniversary of the opening of Hanawon, the South Korean government's resettlement facility for North Koreans, which began operations in 1999.

Hanawon is pivotal in the integration process for defectors, offering essential education and policy support to assist them in adapting to life in South Korea. "The bill is expected to positively shift perceptions and understanding of North Korean defectors, who continue to face social challenges," stated Ji's office. The move comes after President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed the unification ministry to identify a suitable day to honor North Korean defectors during a Cabinet meeting held last month. The unification ministry has been actively working on this directive, with various lawmakers, including other defectors-turned-politicians, proposing different dates for the commemoration.

Rep. Tae Yong-ho, another defector who has taken up a legislative role, suggested August 26 as the commemorative day, marking the date in 1945 when the Soviet Union established the 38th parallel, leading to the Korean Peninsula's division. Meanwhile, Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun has proposed July 14, the date the defector settlement and support act was implemented in 1997, as the day of commemoration.

South Korea maintains a policy of welcoming North Korean defectors wishing to resettle in the South, while also facilitating the repatriation of those who inadvertently enter South Korean territory and wish to return. The unification ministry, responsible for matters related to inter-Korean relations, reports that the total number of North Korean defectors residing in South Korea has surpassed 34,000.

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