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Supporting North Korean Refugee Resettlement Through Mental and Medical Health Services
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Saejowi is a nonprofit organization in South Korea that assists North Korean refugee resettlement through medical assistance, counseling, training, and employment services. Established in 1988, Saejowi operates strictly as a non-political, non-religious NGO. We serve as a trusted partner of Korean government agencies and researchers by conducting public opinion surveys and providing policy advice on refugee issues and socioeconomic changes within North Korea. Our work in refugee medical assistance for 13 years and counseling for 11 years are the longest standing programs of their kind in the country, and we are the only center in the world to train and license North Korean counselors to specifically assist North Korean refugees. Over the past decade, Saejowi has provided direct services to one-third of the total North Korean refugee population in the South through its medical assistance centers and scholarships. Our programs address health as a precondition for our other programs, such as vocational training or education services. Saejowi’s “Leadership Coordination Classes,” Reunification Plays, weekly stitching sessions, potlucks, and cultural exchange festivals promote awareness about the situation of refugees and encourage both North and South Koreans to gain a broader understanding of their respective cultures and the socioeconomic context of North Korea. Saejowi’s programs are funded by donations from its membership, grants from Korean government ministries, North Korea-related foundations, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, & Migration, and other private sector donors.
Although North Korean refugees risk their lives to flee their homes for survival, they are often unprepared for the hypercompetitive, fast-paced, and often lonely environment of South Korea. According to government statistics in 2015, North Korean refugees committed suicide at a 20% higher rate than the general population–and South Korea has one of the highest suicide rates among all OECD countries in the world. To support the struggles of North Korean refugees, Saejowi is constantly evolving in response to refugees’ needs and adapting our programs to their feedback. In the future, Saejowi plans to implement an outreach program to bring care to North Koreans who live alone, provide dignified hospice care and burial sites for North Korean refugees without families, and record an oral history of North Korean women’s experiences during their escape.
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