North Korean men in Russia virtual slaves to Pyongyang

Some NGO workers helping trafficking victims said they estimated that 100,000 North Korean workers are in one region of Russia alone, working in gulag-like camps with salaries paid directly to the North Korean government.

“As in virtually every North Korean labor contract in foreign countries, employees’ wage payments are made to a DPRK government overseer or agent who skims off the lion’s share for dispatch to the Kim regime in Pyongyang, leaving a pittance for the individual DPRK laborers,” Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea said.

The Global Slavery Index – an annual study of worldwide slavery conditions by country – estimates US$2.3 billion is generated per year for the North Korean government while civil society groups say North Korean workers earn only between US$120 and US$150 per month and “may be forced to work up to 20 hours per day with limited rest days”.

Steven Kim, founder of US-based 318 Partners, a non-profit organization that helps North Korean refugees, said he had met many North Korean men who were in forced labor in restaurants, on farms or factories and were exploited by Chinese business owners who threatened them with deportation. A few of these North Koreans reacted violently when they were not paid and subsequently were sent to prison.

[South China Morning Post]

North Korea drought: “Worst crisis since 2001”

North Korea is facing severe food shortages after being hit by its worst drought since 2001, a report from the United Nations says. Crop production in the country has been hampered by a prolonged dry period and food imports are now urgently required to fill the gap, the UN has warned.

The most vulnerable, such as children and the elderly, will be worst hit.

In the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died during a widespread famine.

The latest drought is serious, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Thursday, because bilateral food aid to the country has dramatically fallen in recent years. A persistent lack of rainfall in North Korea in recent months has decimated staple crops such as rice, maize, potatoes and soybean, which many of the country’s citizens depend on during the lean season that stretches from May to September.

The key regions affected include the major cereal-producing provinces of South and North Pyongan, South and North Hwanghae and Nampo City, which normally account for about two-thirds of overall cereal production, the FAO said. Inefficient food production means that large parts of the North Korean population face malnutrition or death.


Helping North Korean defectors overcome the language gap

Dedicated to closing the education gap in Korea, the nonprofit “Dream Touch For All” provides afterschool tutoring services to students from disadvantaged backgrounds ― including North Korean defectors. For defectors, training focuses on enhancing their language skills ― both Korean and English ― that have been widely cited as the main barrier for them adjusting to the South.

According to a 2016 study by the Korea Development Institute (KDI), 40 percent of the 2.95 million North Korean defectors in South Korea were students in their 20s, 10 percent of whom were enrolled in a university. And although affirmative action policies here make it relatively easier for them to get into universities, most of them struggle. Their dropout rate is significantly higher than that of their South Korean peers, the most cited reason was difficulties with the English language. Getting used to the Korean language used in the South  is also a challenge, as the two Koreas have grown apart in their use of dialect, terminology and expressions over the past several decades.

“Dream Touch For All”s work with North Korean defectors began coincidentally in 2013, its CEO and founder Choi Yu-kang told the Korea Times. “I met one student who had fled the North and this led to us hosting a summer camp for student defectors,” he said. Choi talked about the first day at the camp, when a volunteer stood up and talked about a fleeting conversation he had with one of the students. “The student told the volunteer, jokingly, that no matter how hard they study, they will never be able to become like him, a student at a top-ranking university in Seoul. But then, the volunteer burst into tears and soon the whole floor was flooded with tears.”

The organization provides afterschool English lessons at Yeomyung School, in central Seoul, which consists of student defectors aged between 14 and 28.

[The Korea Times]

North Korean defectors down as border tightened

The number of North Koreans escaping to the South declined sharply in the first half of this year as Pyongyang strengthened controls on its border with China, officials said Wednesday.

Since the DMZ dividing the Korean peninsula is one of the most heavily fortified places in the world, almost all defectors go to China first — where they still risk being repatriated if caught — and then on to a third country before traveling to South Korea.

In the six months to June, 593 Northerners entered South Korea, down 20.8 percent from the same period in 2016, statistics compiled by Seoul’s Unification Ministry showed.

As usual most — 85 percent — were women. North Korean men who try to leave are likely to be rapidly identified as absent by their work units.

Pyongyang’s “tightened grip on the population and strengthened border controls add to the risks for potential defectors to take the plunge”, a ministry official told AFP.

The Seoul-financed Korea Institute for National Unification said in a report that since late 2015, the North has been bolstering border controls and installing high-tension electric fencing along the Tumen River that forms the border with China.

A total of 30,805 North Koreans have fled to the South, many of them leaving during the famine years of the 1990s. Arrivals peaked in 2009, but numbers have fallen more recently, with leader Kim Jong-Un reportedly ordering crackdowns on defectors and tightened border controls after inheriting power from his father in 2011.


Meet an American woman helping North Korea’s defectors

One woman in Virginia has made it her mission to find people who have escaped North Korea’s totalitarian regime and can tell their story to inspire and liberate others.

Suzanne Scholte is president of Defense Forum Foundation. In a “labor of love,” she has been reaching out to North Korea defectors for over a decade, helping fund a small radio station run by these people in South Korea to broadcast news, truth, information and messages of hope to those living under the North Korean brutal dictator, Kim Jung Un.

The shortwave radio station run by North Korean defectors relies exclusively on private donations, allowing it to include Christian programming as part of its daily broadcast. Scholte seeks partners who, with $250, can sponsor a full hour of programming that provides vital information and news.

In late April, she hosted her 14th annual North Korean Freedom Week to “prepare for the regime collapse and peaceful reunification of Korea” with North Korean defectors in Washington, D.C.

These defectors, like all North Koreans, were manipulated to hate Americans as “Yankee Imperialist Wolves.”  Now they start with a church service and then go to the Korean War Memorial where they lay a wreath, with great emotion, for the Americans who died making South Korea free.

“It’s very powerful because these are people brainwashed to hate us and now they know we were the good guys,” Scholte says.

 [The Daily Caller]

Christian and non-faith-based groups rescue trafficked women in China

Several Christian and non-faith-based groups work to rescue women and girls from sex trafficking along China’s border areas, in Yunnan and Henan provinces, and in northern China.

In 2006, I witnessed the beginning of a small grassroots movement of Christians from the house churches joining the fight against human trafficking in China – a radical concept, since women in prostitution were traditionally treated with contempt and not welcomed into churches.

Ai Jin, one of the outreach leaders, said that before she began to rescue women from sex trafficking. “I didn’t want to shake hands with prostitutes, thinking their whole body was dirty. Now I can treat them like my own family,” she said.

Dan Chung of Crossing Borders, a NGO that provides humanitarian support for trafficked North Korean women, said this past January that several arrests have been made of missionaries who had been simply helping North Korean refugees in China with counseling and spiritual support.

“That’s alarming to us,” he said. Apart from the government crackdown, these rescuers also face the danger of being killed by gangsters behind the trafficking networks.

[South China Morning Post]

Human rights activist Tim Peters helping North Korean refugees

Officials confirmed North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile test was the same day Tim Peters flew to Alaska. “And I thought to myself, this is a rather bizarre coincidence,” he said.

The Christian missionary is visiting Alaska and spent Saturday speaking at the Ninilchik Senior Center sharing his story about his organization, Helping Hands Korea. It’s a non-profit helping North Korean refugees escaping the regime under President Kim Jong-un.

Peters says he calls it a coincidence because the timing only motivated him more to raise awareness about North Korean refugees.

“There is a desperate humanitarian and human rights crisis that is raging in North Korea,” Peters said. “When you see the dark underbelly of human nature, in terms of the tyranny that exists in North Korea, the absolute deprivation of human rights. That is rampant in North Korea.”

Peters said his organization has people from Asia and Europe assisting with this work through what he calls Asia’s underground railroad. He won’t reveal the process, citing security and confidentiality issues, but says there’s always a need for help in other ways.

“The financial and material support at this point is rather critical,” he said.

Peters said his organization is in its twenty-first year of work. He said he and his wife will continue helping North Korean refugees and that he “hopes to the very core of his being” their efforts will debilitate the North Korean regime.


North Korea a society where all anger must be suppressed

Missile launches have galvanized world attention again on the strange isolated country of North Korea. But scant attention is paid to the trickle of defectors who escape the country’s hardships, and then, basically drown in new freedoms.

Lee Sang-jun is one of tens of thousands of defectors who have settled in South Korea, and most struggle to adjust.

“They lived in an environment where they had to suppress their anger,” says counselor Kim Young-in who works in a government support service. She says many of them suffered a traumatic past.

For Lee, pangs of hunger sear his memory: of being aged seven and surviving on his own as famine gripped North Korea. “I used to just stare at people eating. We’d wait until people threw scraps of food on the ground,” he says. “I spent more than four years living on the streets, hungry and alone. I was literally skin and bone.”

Lee’s mother had fled to China to survive, abandoning her family. His siblings had died or gone far away. Tragically, Lee witnessed his father take his own life. “I had seen people executed by a firing squad since I was little, so it wasn’t really a big deal that everyone in my family had died or left me,” he says matter-of-factly.

After four years his mother made contact through a broker. “It was good to hear she was alive, but it also hurt me a lot,” he says. “I wanted to tell her off badly.

An escape plan was hatched — for Lee to make the perilous journey across the Tumen River into China. Suddenly he was surrounded by plentiful, succulent food. He devoured fried chicken feeling like he’d never stop. But his reunion with his mother was difficult. “She was crying a lot … but I just felt nothing and numb,” he says.

Lee felt overwhelmed by South Korea when he finally arrived in 2006. “I couldn’t believe I’d arrived in this unbelievably perfect place where freedom and happiness were guaranteed,” he says.

But he soon struggled to cope. “I was very aggressive and just had the worst personality. I upset my mum and a lot of people along the way. .. She wasn’t there for any of [my struggles]. So, I don’t see why I need her in my life.”

[Australian Broadcast Corporation]

North Korean refugees bought and sold as wives to Chinese men

Due to the gender imbalance created by China’s having millions more men than women, and the migration of poor women from rural areas, bride trafficking of women and girls has been occurring for years.

Ji Hyun Park, a North Korean defector based in the UK, and coordinator of the non-profit, European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, said Chinese men consider their purchased North Korean “wives” as merchandise which they can resell.

Park should know, as she was sold to a Chinese farmer for 5,000 yuan ($750) in 1998 and eventually escaped.

Most trafficked women, after crossing the Tumen River into China out of extreme desperation, continue to live in extreme fear and loath their husbands. Some were even sold multiple times.

Su-jin, for instance, was lured by a trafficker who promised her a job and a better life. She was sold for 1,000 yuan (US$150) to her first “husband”.

[South China Morning Post]

How North Korean women and their children become victims of human trafficking

North Korean refugee women fleeing their country are all too often trafficked as soon as they cross into China, sold as brides to poor farmers or forced into cyber pornography that caters to South Korean men, according to frontline workers.

Dan Chung of Crossing Borders, a non-governmental organization that provides humanitarian support for trafficked North Korean women and their children of forced marriages, says there’s not enough resources to help care for traumatized children born to North Korean refugees with a Chinese father. Many of these children do not have citizenship and, as a result, are unable to attend school.

“They’re all born into poverty,” Chung said. “Most of them have witnessed their mom abandoning or disappearing or getting arrested by Chinese police and never to be heard again. [There’s] immense trauma from losing your mother. They also hear how ruthless North Korea is.”

Some of these trafficked women are even sold multiple times.

Ji Hyun Park, a North Korean defector based in the UK, and coordinator of the non-profit, European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, said if the Chinese men considered the North Korean women they purchased as “wives” as damaged or useless, they would immediately “resell” them, like merchandise, to other people.                      Read more