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U.S.-Based North Korean Refugees: A Qualitative Study

January 1, 2015
The George. W Bush Institute conducted 16 in-depth interviews with North Koreans who have resettled in the U.S. to better understand their experience.

The George W. Bush Institute commissioned InterMedia, an independent, global consultancy specializing in strategic research and evaluation, to conduct a qualitative study of North Korean refugees living in the United States. The objective of the study was to better understand the experiences of those who have fled North Korea and have been able to resettle in the United States as a result of the act, and investigate ways the U.S. government and civil society might better aid those who have fled North Korea in search of a better life in this country. This report presents the results of 16 in-depth interviews with North Koreans who have resettled in the United States, conducted during August and September of 2014.

There are currently 27,000 North Korean refugees in South Korea compared with just over 170 refugees who have resettled in the United States. Yet, despite the disparity in the numbers, America’s commitment to accepting refugees holds symbolic importance and the promise of a new life in the United States serves as a great source of hope for those who choose to come here.

Interviews revealed a number of findings about life for North Korean refugees in the United States, including the conflicting feelings of gratitude for the new opportunities the United States presents and frustrations that come with assimilating to a new country.