North Korean refugee numbers in South Korea are expected to top 20,000 by this October amid reports of more food shortages and growing political instability.
Anseong, South Korea
It seems inappropriate to describe Kim Yong-hee as blessed.
The teenager hasn't seen his father in two years, and his mother disappeared a year ago. He lives in one of Asia's wealthiest countries, but in adulthood he is likely to encounter discrimination from potential employers and, if he manages to find work, a salary well below the national average.
Yet Yong-hee, a North Korean who escaped to the South two years ago, considers himself fortunate. "I like living here because it's wealthy and I can do more or less what I like, but I miss my parents," he says.
Yong-hee is one of 200 young defectors studying at Hangyeore middle and high school, a government-funded facility 80 kilometers south of Seoul. He is one of 19,300 North Koreans to have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, the initial trickle turning into a flood in the late 1990s when the North was hit by a devastating famine.
The total is expected to top 20,000 by this October amid reports of more food shortages and growing political instability, as the regime's ailing leader, Kim Jong-il, attempts a transfer of power to his son Kim Jong-un.