April 1 (UPI) — Convenience store giant 7-Eleven is stepping up to hire North Korean defectors in the South, where refugees often struggle financially after fleeing the Kim Jong Un regime.
The South Korean branch of the global corporation founded in the United States said Thursday it will sign a memorandum of understanding with a local nonprofit to create more jobs for North Korean defectors, Newsis reported.
Merry Year Foundation, an NGO that has previously worked to provide support to North Koreans, is collaborating with 7-Eleven on the program.
According to 7-Eleven, the program to create jobs for defectors is part of the company’s larger environmental, social and governance goals that contribute to sustainable development by 2030.
The program includes funding for defectors interested in operating a 7-Eleven franchise. Franchising fees would be reduced for defectors who enroll in the program, and participants can qualify for low-interest loans. The franchise development boosts job creation and lays the foundation for economic independence, company representatives said.
Lee Woo-sik, a 7-Eleven sales development executive, said the firm would actively provide refugees with “practical support.”
“There are many North Korean defectors who struggle to adjust to [South Korean] society because they do not have stable jobs due to social prejudice or cultural differences,” Lee said.
North Koreans who resettle in the South are initially introduced to their new environment at Hanawon, a government-run resettlement center.
The defectors are also given a housing subsidy and cash settlement benefits, but many struggle financially despite government incentives for local businesses to hire defectors.
The BBC reported in February many defectors suffer from “extreme trauma” after fleeing the North, and have higher-than-average rates of suicidal thoughts after resettlement.
In 2019, a North Korean defector and her son were found dead in their apartment. The family is believed to have died from starvation.
Activists in the South said the woman struggled with domestic violence and a disabled child after resettling with her husband, a Chinese national.