The number of North Korean refugees is relatively small, but the problems they face have become highly politicized. The interests of media and the concerns of related political groups are surprisingly high and intense. The major reason is that they have been viewed as a potential trigger for the collapse of North Korean regime. Conservative politicians, political factions, and militant evangelical Christian groups are trying to pull more refugees and defectors from North Korea by initiating various planned-exile projects and the legislation of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Their actions are based on the images of the final days of East Germany which was caused by the mass-influx of refugees. However, Vietnamese and Cuban refugee cases which never developed as real threats to the regimes are intentionally ignored.
This paper examines the North Korean refugee problems from a comparative perspective. West Germans were careful not to use defector issues as a threat to the East German regime, and Cuban refugees were conceptualized as a safe-valve for the socialist regime. Vietnamese “Boat People” problems were solved through internationally coordinated programs. Refugee issues tend to become an international political issue, but it should be approached with a political goals and means to protect the human rights of the refugees. This paper urges the concerned groups not to use the North Korean refugees as political tools and, instead, to develop comprehensive long-term humanitarian assistance plans to reduce the push/pull factors.