North Korean refugees fleeing a hypothetical Korean contingency

In the event of a Korean “contingency,” there is speculation that a large number of refugees from impoverished, starving North Korea could make their way to Japan.

Citing an estimate of over 100,000 appearing along Sea of Japan coast in prefectures like Niigata, Yamagata and Aomori, with some possibly armed, Japanese Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso recently posed the question: “Will police respond and arrest them on charges of illegal immigration? If the Self-Defense Forces are dispatched, will they shoot them down?”

Aso raised the specter of armed North Korean refugees flooding the Sea of Japan coastline in a speech on Saturday. Aso, who is also the finance minister, asked how authorities would respond if that should happen. “Can the police handle them? Will the Self-Defense Forces be dispatched …? We’d better think about it seriously,” he claimed.

Aso also suggested that the government should discuss where such refugees would be held.

“It’s a politician’s job to think of (an emergency) response. It may not be an event in the distant future,” he said.

The United States and North Korea remain on high alert as their leaders continue to hurl nuclear threats at each other.

[Japan Times]

Defector floats 1000 digital Bibles into North Korea

A North Korean defector used 350 helium balloons to send 1,000 flash drives loaded with portions of the Bible across the border from the South Korean side, according to reports.

Jung Kwang-il, founder of a group called No Chain, went to an area of South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province close to the border to drop the balloons inside the North Korean territory, according to UPI. The flash drives were donated by college and high school students in the United States.

Fifty-four-year-old Jung, who was sentenced to three years in a North Korean prison camp for a crime he says did not commit, is based out of South Korea. Using helium balloons, human smugglers and helicopter drones, he often sends USB drives, SD cards, and other devices carrying Hollywood movies, South Korean television shows and testimonials from North Korean defectors across North Korea’s borders, according to The Atlantic.

“In recent memory, we’ve had the Jasmine Revolution [in Tunisia], and the Arab Spring,” Jung told the magazine last year. “How come none of that is happening in North Korea? The reason is simple: Because the country’s such a closed-off country, information-wise. People don’t know that the situation they’re in is truly a terrible one. … We want to break that ignorance.”

According to Open Doors, anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 Christians are suffering in labor camps in North Korea. “In North Korea, even children are aware of the risks of possessing a Bible. … People who pick up a Bible know their choice is very risky, they could probably end up being executed,” added the Rev. Eric Foley, president of Voice of the Martyrs Korea.

Last year, a report by the U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide revealed that the following: “Documented incidents against Christians include being hung on a cross over a fire, crushed under a steamroller, herded off bridges and trampled underfoot. A policy of guilt by association applies, meaning that the relatives of Christians are also detained regardless of whether they share the Christian belief.”

[Christian Post]

How many North Korean defectors are there in the United States?

According to Lindsay Lloyd, deputy director of the Human Freedom Initiative at the Bush Institute, there are around 225 “direct” North Korean refugees who have received asylum in the United States following the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. These defectors usually go through China and then to Southeast Asia, where they apply for asylum.

Another 250 North Koreans in the United States arrived as legal immigrants after spending several months or years in South Korea, and obtaining a South Korean citizenship. Despite being born in North Korea, they are registered as South Koreans on America’s doorstep, Lloyd said.

As for undocumented immigrants from North Korea, they are “all over the map,” Lloyd said, estimating they are fewer than 1,000.

A 2014 Bush Institute research revealed North Koreans have conflicting feelings regarding their assimilation and opportunities in the United States.

“In many cases, the support provided to refugees in the United States was stellar and participants believed the help they received, despite the challenges they faced, allowed them to very quickly achieve economic independence,” the report stated.

“For others, however, outside help was scarce and it was not only a struggle to acclimate to their new surroundings, but to achieve a minimal standard of financial independence,” the report said.

[CNN]

Information, interaction and engagement with North Korea

Many North Korean defectors are a far cry from the images that usually make their way out of the tightly controlled nation: expressionless North Koreans lockstepping in military parades and extravagantly choreographed public performances.

In fact, many refugees who escaped to Seoul describe a North Korea that is being transformed, if very slowly, by greater access to the outside world.

Hak Min, who grew up a North Korean town near the Chinese border, picked up on TV signals from China and bootleg videotapes and DVDs, that sparked his desire to escape. “Their culture, their language — everything intrigued me.”

As tensions rise with President Trump over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, many analysts believe information — rather than military force — can be the key to bring about change in North Korean society from the inside..

While the regime’s nuclear and military threat must be taken seriously, an overly confrontational approach by Trump plays into dictator Kim Jong-un’s hands, said Sokeel Park, country director of Liberty in North Korea, an organization that helps rescue and resettle refugees.

“North Korea is strong on traditional security stuff,” Park said. “That’s what they want us to focus on, that’s what they bring the attention to, and then we play right into it. Whereas they’re very weak on their soft underbelly of economy, information, society, culture. For not a lot of money, we could do a lot better on various forms of interaction, engagement, and information access programs.”

[USA Today]

North Korean labor camp experience

North Korea has been known to imprison its citizens for so-called crimes that include anything from speaking badly about the regime and its leader, Kim Jong Un, to distributing South Korean media or stealing rice.

Jun Heo was just a teenager when he was sent to one of North Korea’s prison camps. He told Fox News he would be beaten black and blue and tortured constantly. Cries and screams were a constant backdrop and prisoners were forced to perform hard labor for 14 hours straight.

A former camp guard, identified as Ahn Myong-chol, echoed the reports of brutal beatings, saying he and other guards were encouraged to view the prisoners as sub-human, and strike them repeatedly as punishment, according to the report.

Prisoners were assigned to intensive labor such as coal mining and cement making, and they often died due to work-related accidents. An unconfirmed report also indicated a nuclear test site was being constructed in a prison, the State Department said.

A report released by the Transnational Justice Working Group in Seoul in July explained that public executions carried out on “criminals” in schoolyards and fish markets in an attempt to instill an “atmosphere of fear” among the citizens.

[Fox News]

“We had already decided to kill ourselves rather than be sent back” to North Korea

North Koreans who escape from Kim Jong Un’s regime, by way of China, embark on a grueling journey that–best-case scenario–involves traveling almost 2,700 miles on buses, motorbikes and boats, in taxis and on foot over mountains.

For most, the journey will first pass through China, Vietnam and Laos, where they must be on the alert for police who might arrest them and send them back the way they came–to certain and brutal punishment in North Korea. Not until they cross a fourth frontier from Laos into Thailand are they finally safe.

The Thai authorities do not send them back. Instead, they will slap them with a minor immigration violation and alert the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok, which will start the process of transferring them to Seoul – not far from where many started their journey.

“I want to learn all about computers,” said a 15-year-old boy who had arrived in Thailand from Laos, just 12 days after escaping from North Korea. “I want to become a computer expert.”

“I want to be good at computers too,” chimed in his 8-year-old sister, who was playing with an imitation Barbie that a humanitarian worker had given her on arrival in Thailand. It was the first doll she had ever owned.

The brother and sister are two of the 11 North Koreans recovering from the last leg of their terrifying journey out of North Korea, which started with a dead-of-night escape across the water into China and culminated in a boat ride across a swollen Mekong, which washed them way downstream from where they were supposed to be dropped. After they had spent hours in the rain, not knowing where they were, the activist who had helped them escape finally found them.

[The Washington Post]

North Korean prisoners ‘walking skeletons’ in Kim Jong Un’s labor camps

The leaders of North Korea’s horrific prison camps encourage guards to beat prisoners to death and induce starvation, a U.S. State Department fact sheet revealed.

The report highlighted details gathered from six prison camps, some of which housed as many as 50,000 prisoners, mostly detained for political offenses. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights prepared the information published Friday detailing a prisoners’ daily struggle to even obtain a decent meal at the camps.

“Induced starvation is common among prisoners, who are driven to catch and eat rodents, frogs and snakes,” the report said.

A former camp guard, identified as Ahn Myong-chol, said inmates appeared like “walking skeletons, ‘dwarfs,’ and ‘cripples’ in rags,” and about 1,500 to 2,000 of them would die of malnutrition yearly.

[Fox News]

Malnutrition in the North Korean military

In a video from South Korean Digitalsoju TV, women defectors who formerly served in North Korea’s military sit down with a South Korean host.

One defector explained that all North Korean women must serve in the military for six years, in addition to all men being required to serve for 11 years.

During her time in the military, one of the female defectors said she was fed only three spoonfuls of rice at mealtimes. “I weighed just around 81 pounds and was about 5’2,” said the defector. Her Body Mass Index, though not a perfect indicator of health, works out to about 15, whereas a healthy body is considered to have a BMI of about 19-25.

Unsurprisingly, malnutrition is widespread across all sectors of North Korea. And the defector still said that is even the case within the military. Soldiers are poorly paid, and withhold or steal each other’s state-issued goods like military uniforms.

A second defector said that the officers in charge of uniform and ration distribution would often leverage their position to coerce sex from female soldiers.   Read more

The influence of activists fighting North Korea with balloons, TV shows and leaflets

Some send up plastic leaflets that weigh less than a feather and which flutter down from the clouds with calls for democracy, or blurry cartoons ridiculing North Korea’s ruler.

Some send flash drives loaded with South Korean soap operas, or mini-documentaries about the vast wealth of southern corporations, or crisp new US dollar bills.

One occasionally sends his empty food wrappers, with stained labels showing noodles slathered in meat sauce, so northerners can see the good life they would find in the South.

They are self-proclaimed soldiers in a quiet war with North Korea, a disparate and colorful collection of activists taking on one of the world’s most isolated nations, mostly using homemade hot-air balloons.

“The quickest way to bring down the regime is to change people’s minds,” said Park Sang Hak, a refugee from the North.  Mr. Park now runs the group Fighters for a Free North Korea from a small Seoul office, sending tens of thousands of plastic fliers across the border every year.

Scholars and North Korean refugees say the outside information has helped bring a wealth of changes, from new slang to changing fashions to increasing demand for consumer goods in the expanding market economy.

[AP]

A refugee girl in South Korea

Kim looks like any other 16-year-old girl when you see her shopping in the street in Seoul.

But like 28,000 other refugees, she has escaped from North Korea. One morning in 2011, her mother could no longer bear the misery, lack of freedom and food deprivation, so she and her daughter escaped. Kim was 10 and had to leave the rest of her family, her friends and her school without even having the chance to say goodbye.

They fled their country in secret by crossing by night the river making up the border with China. After making it to China, her mother used her meager savings to pay smugglers to enter Laos, Thailand and finally South Korea eight months later in 2012.

Kim now lives in a dormitory, while attending school. Kim decided on the YeoMyun school, which is run by a Christian association, alternative education suitable for young defectors. Among other things, teachers know that their students have been through trauma when they fled the North, so they deserve special attention.

Like all children in the North, Kim was taught music at school, so she is as comfortable playing drums as electric guitar.

On the weekend, the girls from the dormitory reunite with their families while Kim often stays behind, alone. She uses the opportunity to rest and read Korean mangas. She enjoys preparing a surprise meal for her friends when they return. She loves to cook with aloe but her guilty pleasure is ice cream. She loves buying a 5-litre container to share with her friends while watching a DVD on Sunday night, before resuming the work week.

Kim barely ever talks about her past with her co-tenants. They all have a painful or buried secret they refuse to talk about.

[The Mirror]