Organized Panel Session
The automatic legal citizenship given to North Korean migrants once they arrive in South Korea reveals the South Korean state’s assertion of sole political legitimacy in the Korean peninsula and deep-seated desire to recover Korea’s ethnic unity. In large part, this ideology of kinship has guided South Korea’s provision of citizenship to North Korean migrants and its policies towards the population. However, in recent years, the South Korean administration and the resettlement agencies have foregrounded different frameworks of belonging available to North Korean migrants in South Korea. Compared to the past in which ethnic nationalism worked as a core narrative, the new frameworks of belonging focus on folding the North Korean migrant population into South Korea’s “multicultural” (damunhwa) or “cosmopolitan” citizenry. The “Multiculturalism” framework lumps North Korean migrants and non-ethnic migrants together for provisions and services. On the other hand, elite North Korean migrants are often regarded as cosmopolitan cultural interlocutors with varied linguistic and cultural fluencies, having lived and traveled in North Korea, China, Russia, and the U.S. These “cosmopolitan” agents may play a special role in the envisioned future of economically integrated Korean peninsula and the region. This paper examines the ways in which these new frameworks of belonging pose challenges to the nationalist narrative that has dominated the South Korean state discourse and policies towards North Korean migrants. This paper is based on ethnographic fieldwork that was conducted between 2013-2017 at a North Korean migrant resettlement center located in South Korea.