North Korean defector working on Parliament Hill Ottawa – Part 1

Ellie Cha was 19 when she left North Korea. She now works on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Cha is currently taking part in a program with the advocacy group HanVoice, which promotes human rights in North Korea. As part of the six-month program, the 23-year-old has spoken at universities in Ontario and Quebec while working as an intern.

As a child, Cha went to school and learned the same sorts of things a Canadian child might: reading, math, science – with a few differences. To start with, her history classes were almost completely wrong. She learned that the Korean War was started by South Korea and the United States, for example. Lacking any other information, she believed the history lessons, she said. But she didn’t believe the more overt propaganda.

Every day before class, students were asked to take 10 minutes to compose a written reflection on some recent news, like the “heroes” who died after they ran into burning buildings to save a portrait of North Korea’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

And after school, she and her family would attend group meetings designed to instill further loyalty to the regime. All those amazing photos of parades on holidays or celebrations in honor of the leaders are the result of months or even years of forced practice, she said.

Growing up, Cha was aware of limitations placed on her family’s success. North Korea’s government has a social system that ranks people based on their perceived loyalty to the regime and doles out economic and social privilege accordingly. The rank can go back several generations and can be affected by the actions of family members. Read more

North Korean defector working on Parliament Hill Ottawa – Part 3

Ellie Cha’s family paid Chinese brokers to smuggle them across the North Korean border, one by one. Cha was reunited with her father and 12-year-old brother in China, but their ride wasn’t waiting for them when they arrived. So, Cha’s first night of freedom was spent outdoors, on the side of a mountain. After two days of cold rain on the mountain, their Chinese contact arrived and took the family to meet their mother, then they spent six days driving south through China by bus, eventually reaching Vietnam.

“During that time it was very scary for us, because we knew that if we were caught by Chinese authorities, they would send us to North Korea,” she said. “And strong punishment would await us in North Korea.”

They intended to go to the South Korean embassy in Hanoi, but were arrested by the Vietnamese police before they could get there. They spent three weeks in Vietnamese jail cells. After much confusion, they were sent back to the Chinese border. Cha was afraid.

They were eventually released back into China, and so they tried again. They went through this five times before trying a different route through Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, where they finally ended up in a refugee camp and were able to contact the South Korean authorities.

Cha believes Canadians and Westerners confuse North Korea’s public face – its robotic propaganda and seemingly fanatical devotion to Kim Jong Un — with the North Korean people. “Please remember the people’s lives, people still living under the repressive society.”

[GlobalNews.ca]

North Korean officials intimidating defectors in South Korea

North Korean spies infiltrated South Korea to threaten people who had fled the hermit kingdom, South Korea’s Unification Minister said Tuesday.

South Korean Minister Cho Myoung-Gyonto said his country would work to increase protections for defectors in the south, including by putting more limits on who can access the database holding defectors’ personal information. The minister said North Korean spies and hackers may have infiltrated the database to steal the personal data of North Koreans who had escaped.

“There is a real challenge for North Koreans because they usually aren’t well educated, they stand out, their dialect is different and they are smaller,” explained Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center. “And there is a long history of North Korea sending people into the south [as spies].”

“North Korean security officials are also visiting defector families and applying pressure to make them talk the defectors into returning home,” a source said.

Despite the dangers in South Korea, North Koreans who have made it south are luckier than many who get stuck in China on their way. This summer, at least 70 North Korean defectors were intercepted in China, held in detention centers and eventually deported back to North Korea. Human rights experts criticize China for repatriating North Korean defectors, but Beijing continues to abide by a 1986 treaty with Pyongyang that includes a repatriation agreement.

 [Newsweek]

A ‘life of hell’ for Christians in North Korea

North Korean Choi Kwanghyuk is one of the lucky ones. The 55-year-old managed to escape from the work camp where he was sent after being targeted and persecuted by the government for his Christian faith.

Despite having to hide his faith in plain sight while living in North Hamgyong province, Choi was still compelled to bring religion to others when he started an underground church. “If that information had leaked, we could have faced the death penalty.”

North Korea is ranked the most oppressive place for Christians in the world and has had that ignominious status for years, according to Open Doors USA.

“[Choi’s] statements describing oppression, as well as his report of imprisonment for owning a Bible or practicing faith, align with everything we know about North Korea,” Open Doors President David Curry told Fox News. “Rated the worst place for the persecution of Christians, North Korea treats Christians horrendously and registers them as ‘enemies of the state’ for their faith.”

In 2008, North Korean authorities caught up to Choi and arrested him. He was held in prison by the state security department where he says he was interrogated about his faith. “I was tortured there,” he said.     Read more

[Fox News]

Latest Treasury sanctions on North Korea

The Treasury Department on Thursday issued new sanctions on seven individuals and three entities connected to the North Korean regime in conjunction with a new report from the State Department on human rights abuses within the hermit kingdom.

The sanctions were issued by the Office of Foreign Assets Control, and they freeze any property or interest in property within U.S. jurisdiction and generally prohibit any transactions by U.S. citizens with any of the sanctioned individuals or groups. Among the sanctioned entities are the Government of North Korea and the Workers’ Party of Korea.

 “North Korea is run by a brutal regime that continues to engage in serious human rights abuses. We are especially concerned with the North Korean military, which operates as secret police, punishing all forms of dissent. Further, the military operates outside of North Korea to hunt down asylum seekers, and brutally detains and forcibly returns North Korean citizens,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

“Today’s sanctions target the North Korean military and regime officials engaged in flagrant abuses of human rights. We also are targeting North Korean financial facilitators who attempt to keep the regime afloat with foreign currency earned through forced labor operations.”

[CNBC]

North Korean resettlement in South Korea over the past 20 years

In the decades following the Korean War, there were a handful of high-profile defections from North to South Korea and vice versa, but the total number of people who voluntarily resettled from one state to the other was very small.

During the late 1990s, as North Korea experienced famine and economic collapse, a growing number of North Koreans fled to China to secure their livelihoods, with some eventually making it to the South. The number of North Koreans arriving in the South reached a peak in 2009.

After 2011, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped by about 50% from this peak. Some cite tightened border security as the primary reason for this downturn, although relatively improved economic conditions in North Korea and an anti-defection propaganda campaign within North Korea may also be contributing factors.

The majority of North Koreans who have resettled in the South have been women, who currently account for about 70% of the North Korean population in South Korea. The lower participation rate of women in North Korea’s formal labor force may account for some of this gender imbalance.

Click following link for charts: North Korean Resettlement in South Korea

Other North Korean defectors voluntarily return to the North?

The South Korean Unification Ministry said that 26 North Korean defectors have gone back to North Korea out of the total who have come to South Korea, which stood at 31,093 as of the end of September.

The Unification Ministry is looking into the whereabouts of a 30-something North Korean defector couple, which a local cable TV channel reported on Sunday could not be reached after they left for China in mid-October.

“As they fell out of touch after leaving for China, authorities are investigating the case,” Baik Tae-hyun, ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing.

In mid-July, another North Korean female defector who had gone to China appeared in a North Korean propaganda video, stating she returned to North Korea after suffering “physically and mentally in the capitalist South”. She insisted that she was lured to South Korea by the fallacy that she could make a lot of money. The woman had become somewhat popular in South Korea after appearing on cable TV show programs featuring North Korean defectors.

Baik, the Unification Ministry spokesman said, “The government will make efforts to help North Korean defectors better settle here through cooperation with private agencies and local communities … and will also do its part to create an atmosphere to embrace North Korean refugees as members of our society.”

[The Korea Herald]

Leaving North Korea for South Korea

The defector’s trip usually starts with bribes to officials and payments to brokers who help them leave North Korea. They take their chances crossing rivers and mountains by foot. There’s even an underground railway — a network of safe houses through China — designed to dodge authorities. The lucky ones make it to Laos, Myanmar or Thailand and on to Seoul with the help of NGOs, Christian groups and South Korean diplomats abroad.

The government in the South offers help once they arrive. There is a modest allowance of about $1,000 a month as well as grants of up to $20,000 for things like a down payment on a house.

Defectors go through several months of socialization at government centers, and often they need classes to reach South Korean levels of education. NGOs like the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights offer tutoring in English, math and other skills needed in a competitive market economy.

But no matter how much they feel at home in the South, most still worry about the people they left behind, especially when there are threats of “total destruction” flying between Pyongyang and Washington every day and news of missile tests and underground nuclear explosions.

[CBC]

North Korea may not last a year under present sanctions, says former regime official

A former money man for the Kim regime, who served as a dedicated civil servant for more than 30 years before becoming disillusioned, suggests the North Korean economy is on the ropes.

“I don’t know if North Korea will survive a year [under] sanctions. Many people will die,” Ri Jong Ho, a former official in charge of securing funds for the regime, revealed at his first public speaking event in the U.S. at the Asia Society in New York, according to CNBC. “There is not enough to eat there” and the sanctions have “completely blocked” trade, he asserted.

The UN has imposed strict sanctions on the rogue regime, cutting off 90 percent of its exports, restricting key imports, and shutting down illicit trading and smuggling networks. The U.S. has also imposed unilateral sanctions to increase the pressure on North Korea and its supporters. “The sanctions that the White House has imposed on North Korea are of a historic level,” Ri explained. “Never before has the country faced such tough sanctions.”

He added that the rogue regime desires a functional relationship with the U.S., especially as ties with China hit “the very worst point of their relationship,” he stressed. There is reportedly a great deal of distrust and contempt between Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Kim called Xi a “son of a bitch” during a meeting with senior North Korean officials, Ri revealed.

It is unclear exactly what type of relationship North Korea desires with the U.S., but evidence suggests the North wants recognition as a nuclear-armed state and a peace treaty effectively ending America’s so-called “hostile policy” towards the regime. The North’s provocative behavior is, according to Ri, an attempt to force the U.S. to engage North Korea diplomatically on the regime’s terms.

Ri served the Kim regime as a dedicated civil servant for more than 30 years before becoming disillusioned. He decided to flee the country with his family after Kim began purging senior officials by the hundreds.

[Daily Caller]

North Korean Fulbright Scholar’s first experiences in South Korea

Defector Kim Seong Ryeol remembers his experience at school. “My classmates in South Korea didn’t want to include me in teamwork projects because they thought I really lacked understanding of technology, how to write, and the knowledge of classics and history,” he says. He said this made him angry, but added: “It actually motivated me to go further and try to become more like what South Koreans expected.”

Later, when it came to finding a job, his resume would be accepted time and again, but he claims that when it came to the interview stage employees would reject him when they learned he was North Korean.

“Seventy companies I applied to, all rejected … all at the interview level,” he says. “You have interviewers saying, ‘Explain about your high school and middle-school life,’ but we don’t have that kind of experience in North Korea. So you have to say, ‘I come from North Korea and I want to contribute to your company.’ At that level, interviewers are very confused.”

Kim has been left frustrated and disappointed by his treatment in South Korea but it would be inaccurate to say his time in the country has been all bad. In 2015, after completing his undergraduate studies, he won a scholarship from the Open Society Foundation, a New York-based grant-making organization, to do a master’s degree in unification studies at a South Korean university.

This August he was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to study a Ph.D. in the U.S. starting next year.

Kim says he wants President Trump — and the American public in general — to see beyond the North Korean regime and realize most of the country’s 25 million people are blameless civilians. “The people, they’re really kind and just… normal,” he says. “They try every day to only focus on their life. That’s all.”

[NBC]