Red Cross on North Korean flood relief: “Put politics aside and recognize this is a humanitarian tragedy”

The Red Cross is struggling to raise needed funds to aid flood-affected regions of North Korea after a disappointing response from the international community to its emergency appeal, a spokesman said on Saturday.

Red Cross has only raised 25 percent of the $15.38 million it sought in an emergency appeal aimed at helping more than 330,000 people needing humanitarian assistance over the next 12 months, and with winter fast approaching.

Donors’ political concerns about the North Korean government have hampered efforts to raise funds, Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said, even though the money donated to the Red Cross is spent by the organization, without passing through the government. International donors need to “put politics aside and recognize this is a humanitarian tragedy for thousands of people,” said Fuller.

North Korean government-led reconstruction efforts have moved at an incredibly fast pace, the IFRC said, with cement factories working overtime and a constant stream of building materials reaching the affected areas by train and ship.

“Credit has to go to the government for what they’ve achieved,” Fuller said. “They will have achieved in three months probably what most other countries achieve in three years after a major disaster.”

[Reuters]

North Korean women and the decision to leave their Chinese babies behind

Together with two women from a village in northeastern China, North Korean defector Suh determined to make it to South Korea. In doing so, she made the heart-wrenching decision to leave her 5-year-old daughter with her Chinese husband.

The women traveled by bus and car down through China to the border with Laos, which they crossed illegally in the black of night, Suh carrying her 18-month-old daughter, Ji-yeon, on her back.

While waiting to cross the Mekong River, the women talked about the difficult decisions they had had to make. Suh’s 5-year-old is listed on her Chinese father’s family register, which gives her legal status in China and enables her to go to school. But by the time Ji-yeon was born, the back channel for registration — involving bribes to willing officials — had closed. The baby doesn’t legally exist.

So when Suh decided to flee and realized she could only manage to take one child with her, she knew it had to be Ji-yeon.

“[My 5-year-old] thinks I’ve abandoned her,” Suh said, breaking down into another torrent of tears as she recalled telling her older daughter she would be back soon.

The women made it to Vientiane, the Laotian capital, where a Washington Post reporter spent two days with them as they paused on their journey to what they hoped would be a better life. The women talked for hours about their lives in North Korea and in China but, unlike some defectors who exaggerate their stories to make them more sensational, they appeared to play down their experiences, apparently out of shame.

The relief of being out of China had washed over the women, and the challenges ahead loomed. The women had begun to dwell on the handicaps that North Koreans face. “I have no passport, no papers, nothing,” Suh said. “Why are our lives so different, just because of where we are born?”

[The Washington Post]

North Korean refugee women speak out about leaving children behind in China

Tongil Mom, a group comprised of North Korean refugee women working to be reunited with their children, spoke at the University in Charlottesville VA as coordinated by the human rights advocacy group Liberty in North Korea.

With the help of a North Korean translator, the women of Tongil Mom shared personal testimonies of how they defected from North Korea, their time in China as forced brides and how they eventually resettled in South Korea. Many North Korean women leave their country due to intense struggle and relocate to China, where they are often sold and forced to be brides for Chinese men. While these North Korean refugee women have children with these men, many are still forced by the Chinese government to go back to South Korea. This forced repatriation causes many women to never see their children again. Each woman who spoke at the event currently has a child in China from whom they are separated.

“I think that sometimes it’s easy to forget when all we see in American media is North Korean news about nuclear weapons and political issues. But the fact of the matter is that there are 24 million civilians that live in that country and they’re dealing with a lot of humanitarian issues so we should remember them and strive to support them,” Cameron Hicks, fourth-year College student and executive board member of Liberty in North Korea, said.

Tongil Mom has three main parts in its petition, which is directed to the governments of the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Korea. These include calling for proper identification papers for children born to North Korean refugees in China, humanitarian measures for mothers who defected from North Korea to be able to exercise rights as birth mothers to their children and giving these children the right to choose with which parent they live.

“Obviously, the Chinese government is not going to stop its policy of repatriation overnight, but I believe if we approach the people in China, the people with a [conscience], the people who believe in human rights in China and if we approach this using social media then we can definitely try to make a change regarding the situation,” Tongil Mom Executive Director Kim Jeong Ah said.

“We want to set up a website for children in China to look up the whereabouts of their mothers,” Ah said. “We have all of these ideas to reunite a lot of mothers so they can hug their children again, but we need all the help we can get.”

[The Cavalier Daily]

Defectors speak at North Korean human rights film festival held in Berlin

The International North Korean Human Rights Festival took place in Berlin in October, with satellite events held in Heidelberg and Trier. The festival was organized by Saram, a Berlin-based group partnered with various human rights-focused NGOs with the mission of raising awareness for North Korean refugees.

In addition to screening relevant movies (e.g Cash for Kim, The Crossing, 48m) the film festival sought to address two questions: “Why does a place like North Korea still exist?” and “Can NGOs make a difference?”

Nicolai Sprekels, a spokesperson for Saram, emphasized during his opening speech the importance of understanding the challenges faced by North Korean refugees and defectors. His talk provided insights on the current circumstances and challenges that North Koreans face within their country and in China. He stressed the importance of “raising awareness not only for those who have managed to escape, but also for those who are still living in the North […].”

One defector who shared his story was Mr. Hyeong Soo Kim was born in North Korea and escaped in 2009. Kim states his age as seven years old because, as he puts it, “Only after my escape did I begin to live.” Kim himself studied biology at Pyongyang’s prestigious Kim Il Sung University and was tasked with developing the most beneficial food possible to ensure Kim Jong Il’s longevity. He later began working for the notorious Office 39, a shadowy organization known to manage the Kim family’s slush funds. After illegally listening to foreign radio broadcasts, he began to doubt the premise of the North Korean state and decided to escape. He now works for the Northern Research Association.

Throughout the event, Kim reflected on the events of his past and, as he refers to it, the “wrong years” in North Korea. He noted that there were rumors being spread in the North, warning that anybody who arrives in South Korea will only end up in a prison camp and die. This is one of the reasons why many refugees and defectors at first choose to stay in China. He also noted that during the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, many North Koreans were able to see the “real” South Korea for the first time. Kim explained that in 1998 in particular, many were killed as a result of Kim Jong Il’s orders to shoot anybody who attempted to cross the border into China. “I saw myself,” he said. “I saw seven dead bodies in the river. Six women and a man.”

[Read full Daily NK article]

Major loophole and other weaknesses with North Korean sanctions

North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world. And so far, these punitive measures have yet to achieve their aim — forcing North Korea to denuclearize, or at least return to the negotiating table.

The most recent round of U.N. sanctions — which U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called the “toughest … in more than two decades” — was passed by the Security Council last March.

One sanctions workaround for North Korea has been to station North Korean businessmen in China. While there, they work with a network of private Chinese companies. “So these private Chinese companies were able to order parts and materials from other Chinese companies or from European companies that had set up production platforms in China, selling their goods without ever knowing that they were ultimately going to the North Koreans,” Jim Walsh, an international security researcher at MIT, says.

China signed on to the package of new sanctions in March, which called for cutting off trade in commodities, such as coal. Many analysts thought that was a big deal at the time, since coal is North Korea’s No. 1 export and makes up an estimated 35 percent of the economy there.

But before signing on to the sanctions, China insisted on a key loophole called the “livelihood exemption.” It allows the export of a product if cutting it off might affect the livelihood of the exporter, so long as the revenue doesn’t go to North Korea’s nuclear program. The problem is, companies self-certify that’s the case.

[NPR]

North Korea claims country stronger despite UN sanctions

North Korea’s economy shrank last year, but, CBS News correspondent Adriana Diaz reports, [at least Pyongyang] looked like a place that was expanding, not one crippled by sanctions.

“The purpose of the sanctions is to squash us,” North Korean Ri Kum Jin told CBS News. “But we cannot surrender. We have to defend our lives and our nuclear program,” he said.

“We have abundant natural resources that can be used for nuclear technology,” said economist Ri Ki Song, who advises on policy in North Korea. He was selected by the North Korean government for an interview with CBS News. “It’s the nuclear threats made by the U.S. that caused all of this,” Song said. “The question is whether the new president is willing to abandon hostile policies. Your presidents all sanction us, and we just grow stronger.”

Despite this claim, Diaz reports, in 2016, the average person in North Korea earned just over a thousand dollars a year, less than half what individuals made in the 1980s. They were staying afloat because of China and its appetite for commodities like coal.

China bought 60 percent more coal from North Korea in August than in April, when the sanctions took effect. It did this by taking advantage of a humanitarian exemption in the law; a loophole which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry wanted to see eliminated.

China would have to sign on to any new U.N. sanctions against North Korea, and though they opposed the country’s nuclear program, they have so far been unwilling to go as far as Western powers wanted, Diaz reports. Their fear is that an economic collapse would send millions of refugees across their border, Diaz says, as well as American troops to their doorstep.

[CBS]

Every Falling Star

“My father left to find food, said he was going to China, and he hasn’t come back yet. … My mother went to Aunt’s house to get food, too. She told me she would be gone a week and to eat salt and drink water until she got back. That was, I think, about ten days ago.”

[My fellow street urchin] Young-bum responded, “… I believed you were just acting dumb when we told you about things going on in Joseon. But really… you don’t know! …Your family was kicked out of Pyongyang, fancy-pants, because Pyongyang people don’t come here to live unless the government has told them to get out. And when Pyongyang fancy-pants people are asked to leave, they’re stripped of everything.

“Everyone knew about your family the moment you arrived in that train station, all polished like those shiny metal escalators in the metro in the capital. Everyone talked behind your father’s back about how a great star of the regime must have done something really bad to have fallen into a garbage heap like this.”

I felt the knot in my throat grow tight. My father hadn’t wanted me to know these things.

“You can’t go back to Pyongyang,” Young-bum continued, his voice light and soft as if he genuinely wanted to comfort me. “And even if you found a way, your grandfather isn’t there anymore. When someone does something against the government, the entire family is usually penalized. Your doctor grandfather has been kicked out, too. Or if he hasn’t been kicked out, he’s been stripped of all his things and likely left on his own to survive.

I lowered my head, feeling all hope drain, like on a hot steamy day being given a glass of water with holes in it. I swallowed hard so as not to cry.   Read more

9.27 Shangmoo

“You’ve never heard of the 9.27 Shangmoo?” he asked, staring at me wide-eyed. “On September 27, the government formed the Shangmoo, a band of police to collect people who are not at home or at school and take them to shelters. Every city has a force of these 9.27 Shangmoo, except maybe Pyongyang, because [it’s] like the golden perfect city in the sky, with golden perfect people who all have homes and who never do anything wrong.

“But everywhere else, there are so many kids not at school, adults hunting for food… the Shangmoo’s job is to clean the streets of these people. The Shangmoo send the people they find to so-called shelters—the adults to one place, the kids to another. But these are not nice places. They’re guhoso, jails.”

“Where are you taking me?” I demanded, afraid he was taking me to the prison. … “Here,” he said, stopping. We were standing at the edge of the market.

“I can’t look after you. This is your kitchen now,” Young-bum said, waving an arm around the market.

I followed his hand and looked into the tired eyes of the vendors, eyes that no longer reflected light. The men were wrinkled, sunken, and walking around on bowlegs; the children had runny noses, swollen stomachs, and open sores; the women, who like my own eomeoni, I could tell from their fine features and graceful movements, had been beautiful once like swans, until their skin became first pallid from malnutrition and then blue from dirt and their hair began to fall out.

“At least you’re alive,” Young-bum whispered.

“Am I?” I grunted. “Maybe I died a long time ago, and this is just my nightmare.”

[Extract from “Every Falling Star: The True Story of How I Survived and Escaped North Korea” by Sungju Lee & Susan McClelland]

North Korea unhappy about UN threat of more sanctions

North Korean officials lashed out Monday at efforts in the United Nations to strengthen sanctions following the North’s latest missile launches and nuclear test in September.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on North Korea since 2006 for its nuclear tests and rocket launches. Last week, the U.N. Security Council called on members to “redouble their sanction efforts.”

“The sanction resolutions of the U.N. Security Council are illegal criminal documents,” Pang Kwang Hyok, vice director of the department of international organizations at the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the APTN crew in Pyongyang.

“These resolutions determined that our nuclear tests and satellite launches pose threats to international peace and security, but then the problem is why has the U.N. Security Council never taken issue with the nuclear tests and satellite launches conducted by other countries?” Pang said.

Pang repeated the North’s claim that sanctions won’t stop Pyongyang from developing its nuclear arsenal. “I can state that it is a complete miscalculation to think that any sanctions or pressure can have any effect on us,” he said.

[AP]

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]