The long road for North Korean defectors

North Korean defectors living in China can spend 5-10 years there without legal status, with the goal of making their way to South Korea and becoming South Korean citizens.

After seeking asylum in South Korea, defectors spend two months undergoing investigation. A human rights lawyer is on site to ensure that their rights are not violated during this process, but they cannot freely contact the outside world. They then enter Hanawon, a three-month program that provides healthcare (physical and emotional), education (including courses on history, democracy and human rights), job training, and settlement support or life planning.

With their monthly allowance they can buy phone cards to call family or friends in China or elsewhere. (Some have spouses or children still in China.) They are taken on field trips and spend a night with a South Korean family. One surprise for the residents has been when U.S. service members come to the facility to put on talent shows. Seeing those they’ve been taught to view as mortal enemies singing ballads and making jokes is shocking and eye-opening.

Trainees, which is what defectors at Hanawon are called, also secure South Korean citizenship while at Hanawon; they receive help in finding an apartment and their security deposit is paid for by the government. After leaving Hanawon, individuals can receive employment subsidies, college tuition, and incentives for savings (if you save $500 a month, the government will match that) for an additional five years.

 [Excerpts of Des Moines Register article by Mary M. McCarthy, professor at Drake University]

My crime was that I was born on the wrong side of the river

Around 70% of North Korean defectors are women, and many of them are targeted to be sold as brides or trafficked in China. Following is a firsthand account from high-profile North Korean defector Yeon Mi Park, who fled North Korea when she was 13 years old, finally arriving in South Korea two years later (2009):

“I found a note that my sister left, saying that, ‘Go find this person, and she will help you to go to China.'”

“My mother and I found the person, a lady [who told us] that she had a few daughters but she sent them all to China, and [claimed] she could help us to go to China. And we did not know that she was a broker, or anything, just we thought, “This stranger wants to help us,” and that’s how we just followed her lead.

“We escaped at night, the very same day. I went to China, and I was sold and trafficked and enslaved for two years there.

“[After finally escaping this terrible situation in China] my mother and myself crossed the Gobi Desert, in minus 40 degrees, at night to Mongolia. When I was crossing the Gobi Desert, I was 15 by then. I think I wasn’t scared of dying in that desert. I thought, “Even this universe abandoned me.” Like, I was punished [simply because] I was born in North Korea.  Read more

[Business Insider]

North Korean defector speaks out against indifference to persecution

A North Korean defector said the world cannot “just sit and keep watching” as North Korea persecutes Christians and others. Ji Hyeona spoke at the U.S. State Department’s Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom event at the Harry S. Truman Building this week, telling her story of abuse and torture while trying to escape North Korea.

“I have escaped from the North a total of four times and got repatriated to the North three times until I finally came to South Korea in 2007,” Ji said, “In between, I fell victim to human trafficking and I was also subjected to abortion violently forced on me even with no anesthesia.”

She said she was interrogated about her Christian beliefs each of the time she was repatriated. “Just like Peter denied Jesus three times, I lied each of those times that I got interrogated,” she said.

“We can not just sit and keep watching what they are doing because indifference is the most tragic tool that puts people to death and kills them,” she said, “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: ‘The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.’”

Ji first tried to escape with her family in 1998. Her father was arrested and she never saw him again. She was then arrested and sent back to North Korea.

That same year, Ji was arrested for trying to leave North Korea. She was sent to North Korea’s Jeungsan Camp No. 11 and held at the camp for more than a year.

Then, in 2000, she escaped a third time, but was repatriated back to the country in 2002. She escaped for the last time in 2007 to South Korea.

[ChristianHeadlines.com]

The determined story of a North Korean defector caught trying to escape Part 1

Scott Kim first escaped North Korea at the age of 17 in 2001. At the time, he and his mother only wanted to get across the border to China so they could eat hot meals. Kim had spent much of his childhood starving.

Today, Kim owns a business trading automobile and railway parts in South Korea. But it was a long and dangerous six years in and out of China and North Korea before he got to Seoul.

Paying a broker was far out of reach for Kim and his mother the first time they crossed the river into China. Instead, he and his mother lived as undocumented immigrants and worked as farm laborers. But one year after escaping North Korea, Kim’s neighbor reported his status to the police, who brought him and his mother back to North Korea. Kim was taken to a detention center, where authorities determine where to send defectors next.

Kim was put in a cell with 20 other defectors. There was one toilet in the corner and no space to lie down. Day and night, the defectors sat on the ground. When he or other defectors were told to down the corridor to the warden’s office, they were made to crawl on their hands and feet. Officers beat them with gloves and sticks as they went.

Despite the fact that one of North Korea’s biggest reeducation camps is in Chongori, near his hometown in Musan, Kim was sent to a center further south. Because no one knew him — and internet and phone service was nonexistent at the time — he was able to lie about his age. He told the guards he was only 15 years old and had been in China looking for his mother.

Rather than send him to one of the country’s brutal labor camps or political camps, he was sent to a medical center for orphaned children. Shortly after arriving, he escaped and went back to China, where he got work as a farm laborer near Helong, a city in northeastern China. Read more

The determined story of a North Korean defector caught trying to escape Part 2

When Scott Kim was in China he looked for his mother, and was caught a second time, when a neighbor again reported him to the police. He was sent back to North Korea, to a concentration camp near his hometown. From there he was sent to a labor camp, where he chopped down trees on a mountain for months. He escaped one day when he realized that all his fellow laborers were at the top of the mountain chopping while he was at the bottom.

He ran away as fast as he could until he found a train that he could take him north to cross the border with China again. After some time in China, he was caught a third time and sent to a camp for political prisoners — the worst place to be sent, as imprisonment there is interminable. He escaped the camp by bribing the authorities through a broker, who helped him make it across the border with China a final time.

In China, he went back to work to pay off his debt to the broker. One day, he got a call from a North Korean woman who told him that his mother was dying of cancer. For the first time in many years, the two saw each other.

“When I opened the door of my mother’s house, I froze, and couldn’t say anything, because my mother looked incredibly different,” he said. “There was no fat on her …. I just went outside and cried for a long time and came back again, and I embraced my mother and we cried together.”

Several days later, a friend of his mother offered his mother the opportunity to escape to South Korea via Laos and Cambodia. A broker was taking a group through; they had an extra space. Unable to walk, Kim’s mother told Kim he should go instead.

The long journey began. The night before Kim and the group of defectors were to cross the border into Laos, he received a call telling him that his mother had died.

In 2007, Kim finally made it to South Korea, six years after he first escaped.

[Business Insider]

North Korean defector-turned-Christian

Sung-min (not his real name) was well-off and a college graduate in North Korea. But he was disenchanted with his country and decided to leave. In January 2007, he crossed the Tumen River into China.

“The border guards told me to go to a church where I could get help but I refused because I was an atheist. At first, I hid out in an apartment in China. A Chinese man I got to know during the river-crossing ended up bringing over a preacher to me who I had refused to meet him at first. He said he understood my hardships and told me that Jesus died on the cross to give me eternal life.

“I cried, knelt down and prayed with him and made the decision to become a Christian.”

Today, Sung-min works on a Christian radio program in South Korea, which promotes unity among North and South Koreans in preparation for reunification. He says, ” I believe around 10 million North Koreans are listening to our program on mobile devices.”

Sung-min believes many of the North Koreans who have defected and become Christians have returned to their country in order to share the Gospel. He estimates 30,000 of them belong to the underground churches in North Korea.

Sung-min adds, “I believe God has a plan for us and will reunite Korea in his time and in his way. Our program aims to embrace the differences and restore common identity of the people of two Koreas.”

[CBN News]

North Korean defector the lone survivor of five siblings

Jae-un is the lone survivor in a family of five siblings. Her father was taken to a labor camp in North Korea when she was 2 years old, and never heard of again. During the Great Famine in the mid-1990’s, her only brother died of malnutrition. Her mother died on the road while trying to find food to bring back to her starving family.

Jae-un, vividly recalled in tears, the hardship they went through. “During the famine, we only got rice once in three days. When my mother died, we did not have the strength to bury her. My older sister went to China to earn a living for the family. She sent money once to buy rice but I never heard of her after that. I learned that she was sold as a slave. My other sister engaged in smuggling, got caught, and was sent to a labor camp where she also died.”

Out of desperation, Jae-un decided to escape from North Korea. One night in December of 1999, she crossed the Yalu River and swam for the Chinese border. The water was freezing and the current was so strong but she was determined to survive.

After arriving in China, she was sold to a man who she ran away from because he did not treat her well.

It was then that Jae-un joined a Bible study group in China. She remembered the woman she met prior to her escape who spoke to her about God. Jae-un said she was impressed with the woman’s kindness. “She gave me money to buy three months’ worth of rice and she told me that God is alive and is with me since He is the Father to the fatherless and the defender of the widows. I had heard of God in North Korea but I was also aware that believers are taken to prison.”

Jae-un married a North Korean man she met in church and they eventually made it to South Korea.

[CBN News]

The hermit kingdom’s economic outlook

Recent negotiations between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump have provided a glimmer of hope for the hermit kingdom’s economic outlook. Markets are now watching to see whether the North Korean leader follows through with his pledge to denuclearize.

The next step will be policy reforms, which will open North Korea’s economy to foreign investors. Credit Suisse analyst Trang Thuy Le estimates North Korea could become a $100 billion economy within 10 years if it takes a path towards modernization.

And Le cited another interesting fact about North Korea: some industry experts speculate that it may be sitting on a vast amount of untapped natural resources. “South Korea’s state-owned mining company Korea Resources estimates that North Korea’s mineral reserves — coal, iron ore, zinc, lead, copper and rare minerals — could be worth in excess of $6 trillion,” Le said.

That amounts to 190 times North Korea’s 2016 GDP of around $32 billion.

To gauge how North Korea’s growth projections would look if it opens its economy, Le compared it to three other countries that went through a similar modernization process. “We take the experiences of South Korea in the 1970’s, China in the early 1990’s and Vietnam in the late 1990’s as guides to the potential for North Korean growth to rise,” she said.

Based on the experiences of those countries, Le said North Korea could generate real GDP growth of 7-8% per year in local currency terms. At that rate, the economy would grow to around $100 billion in size, which would see per capita income would rise from $1,258 to around $4,000.

[Business Insider]

Trump’s battle of wills with North Korea and China

The Trump message to Kim Jong Un was direct and blunt: You, your father, and your grandfather have all touted your nuclear program as a guarantee of regime security. Policies of previous U.S. administrations allowed you to persist in that delusion. Not this one.

President Trump used a two-track approach to drive the threat home. First, his “fire and fury” rhetoric was accompanied by credible, calibrated leaks of administration preparations for kinetic action that, depending on Pyongyang’s response, could readily escalate to destruction of the Kim government.

At the same time, the president seized on an even more plausible and readily available instrument of regime change: North Korea’s internationally-condemned crimes against the humanity of its own population. With the proper mix of covert action, strategic communications, and coordination with North Korean defectors, the despised Kim machine could be effectively dismantled without the massive carnage inherent in major military conflict.

To China’s Xi Jinping, Trump was equally clear: You will no longer be able to garner undeserved international prestige as a responsible and moderating force while duplicitously enabling and protecting North Korea’s mounting existential threat to South Korea, Japan and the United States. Chinese entities, both official and commercial, which subvert international sanctions against North Korea, will pay an increasingly heavy price.

These indicators of Trump’s seriousness brought Kim Jong Un to agree to meet with President Trump in Singapore.

Presently, It is clear there is now a test of political will between Washington and Beijing on trade, Taiwan, the South China Sea and North Korea.

[The Hill]

UN official seeks inquiry into defection of North Korean waitresses

A United Nations official called for an investigation into the defection of North Korean restaurant workers to the South in 2016, saying at least some of the group appeared to have been deceived into leaving and hinting that Seoul officials were responsible. The fate of the waitresses has become a source of tension between North and South Korea, threatening to strain the cross-border detente that has blossomed over recent months. Pyongyang says the women were abducted by Seoul’s spy agency and has demanded their return.

On Tuesday, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that his interviews with some of the women revealed concerns about how they ended up in the South. He has urged the South Korean government to repatriate any who wished to return to North Korea.

Seoul says the 12 women and their male manager defected willingly from the restaurant in China where they worked. North Korea has long sent workers abroad to earn money for the regime; as part of that effort, Pyongyang operated dozens of restaurants in numerous countries employing North Koreans.

North Korea has used the issue to try to extract concessions from the South, presenting the Moon administration with a dilemma: Risk hurting the current detente by refusing, or set a precedent of returning defectors to North Korea, which could discourage future defections.

[Wall Street Journal]