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(LEAD) British Embassy launches English program for N. Korean defectors

All Headlines 17:37 May 17, 2011

(ATTN: UPDATES with prepared remarks of unification minister in paras 9-11)

SEOUL, May 17 (Yonhap) -- The British Embassy launched a program Tuesday to provide English language skills and work experience to North Korean defectors in a move to help them better adjust to a competitive South Korean society.

The program, called "English for the Future," offers one year of English language education at the British Council for 47 defectors and a one-year scholarship for postgraduate study in Britain for one defector, according to the embassy.

It also provides a three-month internship for nine defectors with the help of several corporate and media sponsors.

"English language ability can be a real barrier for new settlers from North Korea who strive to access the good jobs and higher education opportunities that South Korea has to offer," British Ambassador to Seoul Martin Uden told reporters.

He also said the embassy and British Council want to be socially responsible and help North Korean defectors learn English and other new skills, noting the ability to speak English is an indispensable requirement for professional and social advancement in the South.

More than 21,000 North Koreans have defected to the South to avoid chronic hunger and political oppression since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire.

Still, many of them lag behind their South Korean counterparts in terms of English language skills and other work experience, hindering them from climbing up the social ladder in the South.

"I did not learn English and I did not feel any need to speak English in North Korea, but I now realize that English is a must," said one 30-year-old North Korean defector who hopes to improve her language skills through the program. She asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

South Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, pledged support for the British Embassy's program, noting it will be a huge encouragement for the North Korean teenagers in South Korea.

"I have no doubt that the small step we take today will produce great rewards tomorrow," Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said in prepared remarks released ahead of a speech at the British Embassy on Tuesday evening to celebrate the launch of the program.

"We must help these new settlers realize their dreams in their new homeland and help them grow into responsible members of our society."

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