North Korean defector explores integration

Audrey Park, a master’s student studying political science in Seoul, is working for Conservative Sen. Yonah Martin, the first Canadian of Korean descent to serve in the Senate. Through her six-month internship split between Toronto and Ottawa, Park will explore the similarities and differences of integration policies between Canada and South Korea.

During a widespread famine in the 1990s when Park was seven, her family in North Korea lived off of one meal a day. Park also remembers it was not unusual to see people passed out or dead in the streets due to starvation.

In December 1998, when Park was 10, her mother felt she had no choice but to leave their home in Hamgyong to flee to China. They embarked on a terrifying 12-hour walk to the Chinese border, dodging car headlights at night and walking through forests during the day. Her mother bribed a soldier to cross the border, which was not uncommon.

The pair lived in China for seven years. They were deported three times to North Korea, each time again fleeing the Hermit Kingdom. In 2006, they escaped for the third and final time during the winter, eventually ending up in South Korea.

When asked how she survived her ordeals, the stoic young woman said the need to survive trumped fear.

[Ottawa Citizen]

North Korean defectors struggle with English language in South

One out of three North Korean defectors who attend university in South Korea are considering a leave of absence, or dropping out, because of language barriers.

While Koreans on both sides of the divide speak the same language, English words are commonly used in the South Korean vernacular, and English is often a required second language in educational settings, which may not be the case in the North.

The findings from government-run Korea Development Institute indicate nearly a third of defectors enrolled in universities would like to suspend their studies because they struggle with English. Not all defectors, however, are considering permanently dropping out of school. About 30 percent of those surveyed said they would like to take time off to study English.

Others may be struggling economically in South Korea: About 29 percent said they would like to leave school in order to “keep up with the cost of living,” while about 12 percent said they “cannot keep up with the course content.”


Defectors adjusting to life beyond North Korea

For most people, adapting to life in a foreign country is a challenge. For North Korean defectors, such challenges are much more imposing.

Take those who defect to South Korea, for example. “For them, it’s kind of like waking up from a time machine and finding yourself in the future,” Sokeel Park, director of Research and Strategy for Liberty in North Korea, an international non-governmental organization that works with North Korean defectors.

North Korea and South Korea started off on similar footing. Unlike North Korea, the South embraced globalization, democratization, and massive economic development. Where South Korea is one of the most wired countries in the world today, most North Koreans have never used a computer.

North Korean defectors sometimes struggle with poverty, language barriers, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and suicidal thoughts, criminality, drug abuse, a lack of education and employable skills, and discrimination, Park explained.

North Koreans living in South Korea are reportedly three to four times more likely to end up prison than their local counterparts. “Under the burden of livelihood difficulties and homesickness, more defectors tend to get involved in crimes with the number of defector prisoners on the rise,” South Korean Rep. Kang Chang-il reported in late September.

Drug abuse is a noteworthy problem. Park noted that some North Korean defectors abuse drugs because that cultural norm exists in North Korea. Others use narcotics as a response to trauma, and for some other defectors, drug abuse is a type of self-medication.

For many North Koreans, freedom, while cherished, is sometimes bitter-sweet. The transition from a broken kingdom to the modern world is often overwhelming.

Most North Korean defectors despise the Kim regime for the tragedies inflicted upon them and their families, and pray for change in their former homeland.
[Daily Caller]

The plight of North Korean women who defect to China

A steady stream of North Korean defectors make their way down through China, across to Laos, then into Thailand and eventually to South Korea. Most are women from the northern provinces, considered down-and-out even by North Korean standards, and face an extremely precarious life in northeastern China.

Many had been sold — some knowingly, thinking life couldn’t get any worse. But other women had been tricked into thinking they were heading to jobs in China, only to find that the man who offered to help them escape, paying bribes to border soldiers and arranging passage, turned out to be a trafficker, selling the women and pocketing the profits.

The buyers are men in the countryside who are too poor or unappealing to get a wife any other way, and the women are stuck in remote villages where they cannot communicate with the locals — if they are permitted to leave the house, that is.

Women ages 15 to 25 are the most prized, fetching between $10,000 and $12,000, brokers and humanitarian workers say, while women in their 30s can be acquired for half that. These increased prices mean that some Chinese families are spending their entire life savings to buy a North Korean woman, and as a result the women are sometimes shackled inside the house.

But even if the women are allowed out and even after they learn some Chinese, venturing into the open is a risky business. If they’re caught by the Chinese police, they face repatriation to North Korea and, at a minimum, time in a labor camp. Read more

North Korean defectors turn to online sex work

Although some North Korean women who have defected and marry rural Chinese men take the risk of working outside the home, shuttling between cleaning and babysitting jobs or working behind the scenes in restaurants, an increasing number feel they have no choice but to try to make money behind closed doors.

That is where video chatting comes in. About one-fifth of the North Korean women living in hiding in China are involved in this kind of online sex work.

“If you’re working in a restaurant or outside, you run the risk of being asked for your papers by the police. So doing this work is safer and the money is better,” said Park a broker who works to get women out. “In the village where they lived, every North Korean woman does this. It’s so normal to be doing this.”

“These North Korean women in China faced a dire dilemma, either having to remain hidden and submit to this kind of sexual exploitation, or risk working outside of their residence with the very real possibility that Chinese authorities could arrest them at any time and force them back to North Korea,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

Suh was sold eight years ago to a man in northern China who, she said, treated her well — he beat her “only a few times.” But the arrival of their second child made a tough financial situation untenable. She heard about video chatting through a friend of a friend and began chatting with South Korean men at night when everyone in her house was asleep.

On her first day she earned $3. In her best week, she netted $120. A few months ago, Suh decided she couldn’t take it. “I wondered why I had to do this. I’m a human being, the same as everyone else,” Suh said, breaking down into heaving sobs. “I wanted to be a good mother, a strong mother for my daughters.”   Read more

North Korean women involved in online sex

Sometimes the men just wanted to talk with the North Korean women. “Face cam,” it’s called. But most of the time, they wanted the other option: “body cam.”

Watching through a smartphone app, the men would ask the women, some of the unknown thousands of North Koreans sold to Chinese husbands and living secretly in northern China, to show their breasts or their backsides, to touch themselves or perform sex acts on one another.

Most of the time, the women did as requested. They needed the money — even if it amounted to only a few dollars a day.

“In the beginning, I didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. I thought it would be okay because I wasn’t actually sleeping with anyone,” said Suh, who had been one of the legions of North Korean women performing online sex work in back rooms in China. “But then I found out how many perverts there are out there.”

“There are some people who just want to look at your face, but the majority of them are there for their sexual desires,” Suh said, putting her head down so her long hair covered her cherubic face. “I felt so disgusting.”

Suh decided to try to leave China, along with the two others. They found out about Park and Kim Sung-eun, a pastor from the Caleb Mission, a church in South Korea that helps bring defectors to safety, and asked to be helped out. For the second time in their lives, they escaped, this time to a safe house in northern China, and from there they made the journey to the border, then walked to Laos.

[The Washington Post]

Escaping the ‘cruel, sad, and dark’ world of North Korea

Grace Jo, a North Korean defector who now lives in Washington, D.C., shares her story:

“North Korea is very cruel, very sad, and very dark,” Grace said, recalling her days there. “It is a world completely without hope.”

Born in 1991 in Hamgyeong Province, Grace lived in the mountains with her mother, father, two older sisters, younger brother and grandmother. She lost more than half of her family before she left North Korea for good.

Her childhood was defined by a famine which killed hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, between 1994 and 1998. “We were always hungry and cold,” Grace explained, “My mother, father, and siblings were always out searching for food. … I went 10 days without any food. We could only drink cold water from the river,” she said. Had it not been for the generosity of a neighbor, Grace would not have survived.

To fight off starvation, Grace’s mother and father made several food runs to China. The first two times were successful, but everything went wrong during a third trip, when they were caught by border police. Her mother, who was pregnant at the time, was tortured in prison, an experience that crippled her permanently. Grace’s father died during his incarceration.

To care for the family, Grace’s oldest sister traveled to China to find food, but she disappeared. After recovering, Grace’s mother left Grace, her older sister Jinhye Jo, her younger brother and her new baby brother in the care of their grandmother and set out to look for her daughter in China.

“We did our best to take care of our new baby brother while our mother was gone, but we were unable to save him. He died after only two months,” Grace explained. Read more

Escaping the ‘cruel, sad, and dark’ world of North Korea – Part 2

On her seventh birthday, Grace Jo crossed the Tumen River with her mother and sister and entered into China. Weak and malnourished, Grace’s eyes were opened to the world beyond her country’s borders. She saw a family with a pet dog that ate better than she ever had. “Even the animals here live better than we do,” Grace recalled thinking at the time.

Grace, her older sister, and her mother lived in China intermittently for 10 years. They were always on the run, hiding from the Chinese police. They also had to evade North Korean agents who had been dispatched to hunt down their family. They weren’t able to avoid capture; all three were repatriated multiple times.

After being caught and repatriated in 2001, young Grace spent many months in a North Korean prison facility. “The soldiers liked to kick and punch people. They liked to practice boxing on the prisoners,” Grace explained.

“From this moment on, you are no longer human beings, you will be treated like animals,” the North Korean soldiers barked.

“We could not look them in the eye. We had to stare at their feet. If we moved or looked up, they would punish all of us,” she said.

North Korean prisons are notoriously brutal, with some previously imprisoned defectors reporting seeing guards beat people mercilessly. Some said that the soldiers would sometimes attack pregnant women, kicking them in their stomachs repeatedly.

In this harsh and unforgiving environment, Grace was always terrified that she would never see her family again. Read more

Escaping the ‘cruel, sad, and dark’ world of North Korea – Part 3

After bring caught defecting and sent to a North Korean prison, Grace Jo was eventually set free. She made her way back to China, where she was reunited with her mother and sister. The family met Korean-American missionary Pastor Phillip Buck who helped take care of them.

But they were caught again in 2005, and Grace spent a year in a Chinese prison. In 2006, the Chinese turned her and her mother and sister over to the North Koreans. They were held in the National Security Agency, where they were interrogated and tortured.

The North Koreans found out that they were Christian and knew Christian missionaries — crimes punishable by death in North Korea. To spare them, Buck paid $10,000 to North Korean security officers. The family was charged with lesser crimes and set free on the condition that they remain in North Korea.

They immediately fled the country to China, where they quickly applied for United Nations’ refugee status.

While waiting for approval, Grace and her family stayed in an apartment with around 20 other defectors in Beijing. There was a constant lingering fear among the residents that they would be sent back. Grace explained, “We couldn’t leave the house. Even though we had a kind of protected status, there was always the possibility that the Chinese police would grab us and send us back to North Korea.”

After receiving refugee status, Grace, Jinhye, and their mother came to the U.S. in 2008. Grace became a U.S. citizen in 2013.

[Daily Caller]

Diarrheal diseases have quadrupled since North Korean floods

The number of children in North Korea suffering from diarrheal diseases has quadrupled since floods swept through the country’s northeast.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Friday the number of children under the age of 5 suffering from waterborne diseases in flood-hit regions is now four times the number it was a month ago in September, Voice of America reported. Severe acute malnutrition is also on the rise.

OCHA said the water and sanitation system of North Hamgyong Province was damaged during the massive flooding that took place from Aug. 29-Sept. 2. Contaminated water at wells and hand-pumps has affected a population of 600,000.

Clean water and sanitation is urgently needed to prevent the further spread of waterborne diseases, the U.N. agency said, adding 45 health clinics in the region have been damaged as a result of the floods. Medicine as well as medical equipment are in scarce supply.

Epidemics could continue to grow unless more action is taken, OCHA stated.

The U.N. agency said it has supplied dietary supplements for 50,000 children and lactating women, as well as providing canned goods and high-calorie biscuits for 140,000 flood victims.