[General]Dr. Sungnam Kim Appointed as Director of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center; "First Defector Appointed as Director Among 25 Centers Nationwide"

20 Aug 2021
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Dr. Sungnam Kim (46, Ph.D. in Social Welfare), who defected from North Korea in 2001, has been appointed as the new Director of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center, an organization specializing in supporting North Korean defectors settle into South Korean society.


This is the first time that a North Korean defector has been appointed as the head of one of the 25 Hana Centers in South Korea, and we predict that this will serve as an opportunity to provide more practical help to North Korean refugees who are having difficulties settling down in South Korean society.


At the inauguration ceremony on August 17th, held at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), charged with jointly operating the center with the Korea Hana Foundation, Director Kim said, “There are various policies for supporting North Korean defectors, but once you start working in the field, you find there are too many North Korean defector families who fall between the cracks of the welfare system,” adding, “We will build a system that will immediately run to and support North Korean defectors when they need urgent help.”



  • Overcoming the hurdle of repatriation to North Korea and earning a doctorate in social welfare...Helping other North Korean defectors reach 'Act 2’ of their lives

     

Born in the Heungnam District of Hamhung City, South Hamgyong Province, Director Kim defected from North Korea in 2001 and settled in South Korea in 2003 after passing through China. The defection process was not all smooth for her. She said that she had been arrested and detained for 50 days in Yanji, China, after being reported by an ethnic Korean-Chinese person.


Director Kim, said, "I was so busy with my life that I couldn't afford to take care of the people around me," recalling that in the early days of her social settlement, she focused only on earning money, thinking of her family still in North Korea.


However, she decided to help her fellow defectors settle down after she came across a media article that said, 'Many defectors are having difficulties adjusting to South Korean society.' The number of North Korean defectors who said that they were not able to adapt to South Korean society and were even thinking about re-defecting came as quite a shock.


Wanting to help North Korean defectors find happiness in South Korea too, she began studying social welfare in university in 2008 and obtained her doctorate in social welfare from Ewha Womans University in 2019, 11 years later.


Her doctoral thesis, ‘Experiences of North Korean Refugees living in the UK (2019),’ which deals with the lives of North Korean defectors who left South Korea and immigrated to the UK, is considered the first attempt to explore the aftermath of North Korean defectors’ “escape” from South Korea from the perspective of a North Korean defector.



  • Working day and night to help North Korean defectors adapt to society... “I will become the Director you can depend on”

    

After obtaining her doctorate, Kim had been focusing on researching human rights abuses experienced by North Korean defectors in North Korea or in a third country after defecting. In January of 2021, she was appointed as the Secretary General of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center, a role in which she felt she could directly assist North Korean defectors.

 

In her role, she traveled around Gyeonggi Province to Bucheon, Gwangmyeong, Siheung, Anyang, and Gwacheon day and night to help North Korean defectors settle into their new lives. After 8 months in the role, she is now the first North Korean defector to take on the role of Director of a Hana Center.


One North Korean defector (45, Gyeonggi Province), who said they received help from Director Kim during the early days of their resettlement in South Korea, said, “Director Kim was always bright and lively, and a person that I could trust to keep her promises,” adding that, “Just as she kept her word then, I know that she will work just as hard as the Director of the Hana Center.”


Prior the inauguration ceremony, Kim said that she remembered each and every one of those who helped her from the early days of her resettlement in South Korea until now. She said, “From 2003 when I was ‘Sungnam Kim from North Korea’ until now in 2021 as ‘the first defector to become Director,’ there have been so many people that have helped me.”

 

She continued, “We will actively cooperate with relevant organizations and experts as well as the heads of North Korean defector groups to create a plan that can provide realistic help to North Korean defectors.” She further emphasized, “I will support North Korean defectors like me with a sense of responsibility so that they can realize their dreams and fulfill their responsibilities in various fields of society.”


The Hana Centers are local adaptation organizations for North Korean refugees established by the Ministry of Unification in 2009. Social workers and professional counselors at the Hana Centers provide initial intensive education, case management, employment assistance, and counseling for North Korean refugees in the region.


In July 2020, NKDB was selected as the designated operating institution for the West Gyeonggi Hana Center among the 25 Hana Centers nationwide, and currently coordinates North Korean refugees' resettlement education, psychological and career counseling, and provides information necessary for employment and everyday life.

 

Sungnam Kim, the new Director of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center


○ General

  • 1975 Born in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province
  • 2001 Escaped North Korea
  • February 2003 Arrived in South Korea

 

○ Education

  • August 2019 Graduated from Ewha Womans University (Ph.D. in Social Welfare)
  • February 2015 Graduated from Ewha Womans University (Master of Social Welfare)
  • February 2012 Graduated from KC University (Bachelor of Arts, Social Welfare)

 

○ Experience

  • August 2021-present Appointed Director of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center
  • January 2021-July 2021 Secretary General of the West Gyeonggi Hana Center
  • January 2016-December 2020 Research Fellow, Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB)
  • January 2014-July 2014 Ewha Womans University Social Welfare Center Social Worker

 

○ Research

  • An, Hyun-min et al., “2020 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights”. Seoul: Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, 2020
  • Kim, Sungnam and Kim, Sowon, “The Status of Economic and Social Integration of North Korean Refugees in 2020”. Seoul: Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, NK Social Research, 2020
  • An, Hyun-min and Kim, Sungnam, “The Economic and Social Integration Status of North Korean Refugees in 2019”. Seoul: Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, NK Social Research, 2019


  • Sungnam Kim, “Experiences of North Korean Defectors Living in the UK,” Ewha Womans University Doctoral Thesis, 2019
  • Sungnam Kim, Okkyung Yang, Gahwan Yu, and Jihye Yoon, “Resettlement Experiences of Re-entry North Koreans- From North Korean Defection to Re-entry,” Seoul: Korean Society for Social Welfare Practice, 2019
  • Sungnam Kim and Okkyung Yang, “A Qualitative Study on the Child-rearing and Education Experiences of North Korean Refugee Mothers”, Seoul: Ewha Womans University Social Welfare Research Center, 2015, and others