York U professor awarded grant to study North Korean refugees in Canada

For a little more than a decade (2003 to 2015), there was a small bump in the numbers of North Koreans in Canada, many of them seeking asylum. But the number of asylum seekers, which were in the hundreds, dwindled to only two by 2016.

Ann Kim

Ann Kim

Ann Kim, associate professor of sociology and York Centre for Asian Research (YCAR) faculty associate, was awarded a Child and Youth Refugee Coalition (CYRRC) grant to study the experiences of refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea) in Canada.

The project, “When roots/routes matter: The appearance and disappearance of asylum seeking families from the DPRK in Canada,” emerged out of Kim’s contacts with local Korean organizations, Hanvoice and KCWA Family and Social Services. Her study will examine the policy shifts that led to the decline in applications and the processes and experiences of integration of North Korean refugees.

“Around 2012, Canada began to verify whether North Korean asylum seekers initially settled in South Korea,” said Kim. “Since asylum seekers given legal status in one country cannot apply for asylum in another country, North Koreans who migrate to Canada through South Korea cannot obtain refugee status here.”

Prior to this shift in the Canadian government’s approach to North Korean applicants, North Korean asylum seekers who arrived in Canada were given status in larger numbers.

“This brief and fleeting wave generally ended by 2014, when only one North Korean refugee application was approved,” said Kim.

More recently, the Canadian government gave notice that it is reviewing the claims of some North Koreans who obtained permanent resident status, which could lead to loss of status and deportation.

“One aspect that I’m really interested in examining is what the construction of North Koreans as South Korean at the policy level means to families and individuals on the ground,” she said. “Studies show, and North Koreans tell us, that North Koreans in South Korea face many obstacles to integration. Stories of employment challenges and difficulties interacting with local Koreans in the south are common.”

The CYRRC established the grant supports research that contributes to a stronger understanding of factors affecting the integration of young refugees, with the goal of supporting successful resettlement. The Dalhousie University-based partnership grant is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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