From Pyongyang to New Malden – the charity helping North Koreans settle in the UK

Escapees from North Korea will be helped to acclimatise to life in the UK thanks to new funding for a charity in south-west London.

New Malden has become an unlikely focal point for those fleeing Kim Jung-un’s secretive dictatorship and is home to the biggest North Korean population outside the Korean peninsula.

Since 2018, it’s also been home to Connect: North Korea, which offers advice and support on issues such as accessing healthcare, utilities and housing, alongside vocational training.

The charity will be able to help more people thanks to a £50,000 grant from City Bridge Trust – the City of London Corporation’s charity funder.

City Bridge Trust Chairman Giles Shilson said:

“People fleeing North Korea to come to the UK have often been through very traumatic experiences, may have had to leave family behind and face a huge culture shock when starting life here.

“Connect: North Korea provides a lifeline, offering practical and emotional support to help them adjust to life in the UK and enabling them to connect with others who’ve been through similar experiences.”

New Malden’s status as home to hundreds of North Koreans and thousands of South Koreans dates back to when it was the base for the South Korean embassy and UK headquarters of the South Korean electronics giant Samsung.

North Koreans arriving in the neighbourhood have often escaped via the country’s northern border with China, via Mongolia or Thailand. Most are women, many of them victims of sex trafficking.

Alongside practical and vocational advice and support, Connect: North Korea also offers mental health support to help North Koreans affected by the trauma of leaving their homes and starting life in a new country very different to the one they left behind.

Connect: North Korea Programme Manager Catherine Dawkins said:

“The thing that really affects North Koreans is the overwhelming nature of choice –

what to wear, what to eat, what to buy in the supermarket – because in their home country there’s very limited choice and freedom.

“The biggest challenge they face is the language barrier, which affects every facet of their lives from being able to find housing to opening a bank account.

“There’s also sometimes a mistrust of the authorities and even if they’re eligible to access a service, they may be unwilling to do so. We can help them to set up and accompany them to appointments and explain what services are and how they work.

“We’re able to help people to express themselves in a way they couldn’t before, to live with less anxiety and have better relationships. They also feel part of a community of North Koreans in the UK, which is really vital.”

More information about Connect: North Korea is at www.connectnorthkorea.org

The City of London Corporation’s charity funder, City Bridge Trust, is London’s biggest independent grant giver, awarding grants of over £28 million a year to tackle disadvantage across the capital – www.citybridgetrust.org.uk

Case study: ‘Connect: North Korea helped me to see that I have a future’

Ha-Joon is in her early 30s and arrived in the UK in 2010. When she first came to Connect: North Korea in 2018, she was working 50 hours a week at a restaurant in New Malden, was desperate to improve her standard of living, but didn’t know how.

She got in touch with the charity after seeing its advert on a Korean-language social media app, came to an open day and went on to receive career coaching to help her achieve her dream of becoming an accountant.

She said: “In North Korea, when a person looks at a flower, they don’t think anything about it other than how it looks nice. Now, I might think: ‘How did the flower get there, how long did it take to bloom, what will happen to it?’

“This is an example of how we are taught to think in North Korea and how we have to train ourselves to question things and think about the future.

“Connect: North Korea has helped me to see that I have a future and can lead a life full of knowledge and aspirations.”

Picture captions

- Safeguarding lead Ilsang (right) with Connect: North Korea programme manager Catherine Dawkins delivering a workshop on healing

- An English lesson at Connect: North Korea

- Statues of former North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-Il in Pyongyang

- New Malden

- City Bridge Trust Chairman Giles Shilson

Notes to editors

The City of London Corporation is the governing body of the Square Mile dedicated to a vibrant and thriving City, supporting a diverse and sustainable London within a globally-successful UK –  www.cityoflondon.gov.uk

The City Corporation is the sole trustee of Bridge Houses Estates, a charity founded in 1097 to maintain London Bridge, and Members of its Court of Common Council form the Bridge House Estates Board.

Bridge House Estates is now responsible for maintaining Tower, London, Southwark, Millennium and Blackfriars Bridges, and its grants team, City Bridge Trust – founded in 1995 – awards over £28 million a year to good causes across the capital – www.citybridgetrust.org.uk