Even back in North Korea, Hong Tae-myong wanted to be a driver, but simply getting a license after defecting to South Korea wasn't enough to get a job. He also had to lie about where he came from.
"That's how I got a job here so far. I learned this after dozens of rejections in job interviews," the 30-year-old said on Tuesday, filling out his resume at a government-sponsored job fair for defectors.
"When I identified myself as a North Korean defector, they would not hire me," he said.
Hong was among about 500 hopefuls at the fair, part of government efforts aimed at helping defectors overcome the widespread prejudice they face in their new home.
When the two Koreas were locked in intense Cold War rivalry, North Korean defectors received heroes' welcomes in the South and were given houses, jobs and other financial assistance. But with the number of defectors growing rapidly in recent years, the new arrivals are increasingly considered a social problem.
More than 9,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea since the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, with about 7,000 of them coming to the South since 2002. The total number of defectors is expected to top the 10,000 mark early next year, according to the Unification Ministry.
Many defectors are believed to be living below the poverty line because they can't get decent jobs due mainly to a lack of education and widespread prejudice among South Koreans, who view those from the socialist system as lazy.
"We have such concerns as well, but still, we wanted to give them equal opportunities," said Cho Chong-pill, an official with a car navigation manufacturing firm, at his company's booth at the job fair in southern Seoul.
About 40 companies offered some 200 positions at the fair, mostly low-paying jobs such as janitors, porters and welders. Monthly wages ranged from 800,000 won (US$866) to 1.3 million won.
Hong complained that South Koreans look down on North Koreans.
"Even if I have the same ability as a South Korean, I'm considered inferior,'' he said.
Meanwhile, one of the two North Korean soldiers found adrift in the South's waters over the weekend is in a coma and the other wants to return home, South Korean military officials said yesterday.
The two were suffering from frostbite, hypothermia and malnutrition and have been receiving treatment at a South Korean military hospital, an official with the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
If the soldier wants to return to the North, the South will work with authorities in Pyongyang to secure a passage, the official said.
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