Zin A Choi

Zin A Choi
Photo: Zin A Choi

What does the term refugee mean to you?

This is someone who has lost the place where he lives.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

No. Poverty is also connected to the political and economic situation in the country of origin and poses a danger for the continuation of life.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Ecological problems have a direct effect on human existence. The famine in North Korea can also be traced back to environmental problems, and many people have become refugees due to repeated famine. They must be taken in, but in addition, measures must be taken to regenerate the environment.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

When all national boundaries have disappeared.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Yes. All people have the right to live where they want and they should have the freedom to do that. In addition, there is the right to flee to another country if there are wars or economic problems in one’s own country.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

As an ideal, a general right to asylum should be unconditional. But this will probably be very difficult to realize.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

According to my opinion, only a limited number of refugees can be taken in.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

That depends on the degree of readiness a country’s citizens have to take in refugees.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

I live in South Korea. For people who fled from North Korea, there are special measures taken here, such as educational opportunities for life in the new society and support with accommodation. Because refugees from North Korea have been exposed to systematic propaganda in their home country, they receive certain privileges here.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

No, by no means. Already the term of "Talbukja" (literally "people who fled from the North" with a connotation of “defector”) has, in my opinion, a derogatory meaning. Due to the hostility existing in South Korean society towards North Korea as well as due to a lack of information, these refugees are excluded from social life and discriminated against.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?

First of all, people in South Korea would have to be convinced that even more refugees must be welcome. This has to be assessed from a number of perspectives, such as in regard to social justice. But equally, political and economic aspects must be taken into consideration. If South Korea accepts refugees from North Korea and reconciliation in regard to their life style is achieved, this will later prove to be – in view of the social conflicts to be expected in case of a future reunification of Korea – very useful indeed

What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

Initiative. They should try and understand the new social system and to adapt to it.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

Tolerance. They should show tolerance toward people coming from another system and strive for reconciliation.

Do you know any refugees personally?

I know a poet who fled from North Korea, an absolutely righteous person. In addition, I know a very companionable and gregarious North Korean who operates a restaurant.

Do you actively support any refugees?

I try to give them emotional support. I wish them to get well acclimated and be able to live here in happiness. And I hope that they will not have to make painful experiences with discrimination.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

One can only dream of such a world. A world without war, political oppression, religious conflict. A world in which one lives with those people one loves.

If yes: what does it take?

The reduction of American weapons arsenals. The elimination of the "Islamic State", the realization of greater justice.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?


Do you think you will ever be a one?

This is probably not likely.

- If yes: why?

Even if there is still only an armistice on the Korean peninsula, it is difficult to be aware of that in the course of daily life. I cannot imagine a war breaking out here.

- How do you prepare yourself?

I resist war.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Would it be possible to flee from such a war? If yes, I would flee to Germany!

How much “home” do you need?*

I live in my home country and I am making the kind of theater I want to. Here in this country, my family lives, my friends are here, as is my work, the nature that is familiar to me, were I can recover. I would be extremely unhappy if I would lose these things.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.