Close Encounters with the Same Kind: The Limits of North Korean Refugees' Imagined Communities

Monday, 11 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 07 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Lee SANGGU, Sogang University, South Korea

Migration has become an increasingly significant issue in global society, particularly as it is accompanied by problems of boundary control and contested boundaries, policies regarding illegal immigration, and family separation and disintegration. But a key underlying problem is that of disparity between imagined communities (Anderson) in the minds of citizens and migrants. This paper focuses on such migration problems in the context of North Korean refugees resettling in South Korea, utilizing Anderson’s concept of “imagined communities” to approach migration issues from a fresh perspective. Although North Korean refugees mentally construct an imagined community in which North and South are one, South Koreans’ cultural attitudes toward refugees causes such problems that some refugees go so far as to return to the North. Such phenomena calls for thoughtful research on migration to resolve these issues of resettlement.

This qualitative study draws from in-depth interviews with ten North Korean refugees (five men and five women) going through the process of resettlement in South Korea and attempting to overcome the cultural barriers they encounter. The research focuses on the conflict between imagined community and existing community while analyzing what factors lead to success in resettlement. While the sample size is small, this research takes an important first step in examining the personal experiences of North Korean refugees in order to pave the way for positive solutions to the migration issues that are accelerating and expanding in scope throughout our global society.