What makes Christian aid workers tick?

Christian aid workers say they are motivated by such biblical admonitions as “love your enemies.” Many say their work can foster peace through cooperation and trust-building. Groups hail from many denominations, including the Quaker-founded American Friends Service Committee, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mennonite Central Committee and the interdenominational World Vision.

Stephen Linton and Chris Rice, sons of missionaries in postwar South Korea, are  among those who believe that humanitarian aid, delivering food and medicine, builds goodwill.

Mr. Linton has traveled to North Korea more than 80 times since the 1970s. He runs a program to treat multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, a widespread problem. Late last year, North Korea asked him to double the scope of the program’s work in the country, he said.

Other Christian humanitarians have turned away from North Korea. “This money is all going straight into the pockets of the regime,” said Nancy Purcell, a Philadelphia-area native who first traveled to North Korea with a Christian nonprofit in 2000. She helped distribute food produced there until concluding in 2004 that the military siphoned off donations. Aid was “prolonging the regime,” said Ms. Purcell, 68.

Tim Peters, of Michigan, said he first traveled to North Korea to deliver food during the 1990s famine, inspired by a verse in the Book of Romans: “If your enemy hungers, feed him.” Today, Mr. Peters, 67, runs a Christian group, Helping Hands Korea, that assists North Korean defectors.

North Korea badly needs food and medicine, experts said. At least 40% of North Korea’s population is undernourished, and such diseases as tuberculosis and hepatitis are rampant, according to U.N. reports. In January, UNICEF said a slowdown in aid could lead to starvation for some 60,000 children. Read more

Billy Graham’s first visit to North Korea in 1992

Christian work in North Korea began around the time of two trips to Pyongyang in the early 1990s by the late evangelical leader Billy Graham. He said he was received with a bear hug from Kim Il Sung, the now-deceased founder of North Korea’s dynastic state and grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

The regime gave its own spin. In 2016, state media reported Mr. Graham had affirmed Kim Il Sung was akin to God, “so perfect in his ideas that North Korea didn’t need the Bible,” which the Graham organization denied was said. (Note that regime founder Kim Il Sung grew up in a Presbyterian home and learned to play the church organ, historians said. He built three showcase churches in Pyongyang.)

In 1995, North Korea made an international call for help to combat famine and became one of world’s biggest recipients of food aid, about a million tons a year. The U.S. gave $1.3 billion in food and energy from 1995 to 2008. Researchers now suspect that North Korea diverted much of its famine-era aid to elites and its military.

Christian aid workers say they are confident their donations reach intended recipients. To deliver the food and medicine, North Korean authorities allow the workers to travel to regions otherwise off limits to foreign visitors.

While North Korea accepts Christian aid, it is no friend of Christianity. The regime sees religion as a threat and has imprisoned Christians for praying and owning a Bible. Preaching is forbidden, yet some aid workers say they talk about their beliefs in private with individuals who ask, despite the risk.

[The Wall Street Journal]

What brokers do to help North Koreans defect

Around 31,000 North Koreans have defected into the South since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Most of the North Koreans who defect do so via the long and expensive journey that takes them into China after crossing the Yalu River.

Um Yae-run, a 41-year-old defector who now works in Seoul at a marriage bureau and also as a broker, explains, “A lot of people who come to South Korea become brokers. They work with brokers in China who work with brokers in North Korea.

“If someone in the South wants to bring a family member over, they will give the address of the person in North Korea to the South Korean broker who will pass it on. In North Korea, you can’t trust anyone. So we give the brokers personal information, like a code word, so the person knows who sent the broker.

“The person will then work with the brokers to get you to the border. In North Korea, if you have money, you can do anything. If you don’t live near the border you need to take a train for which you will need a license. The brokers will pay to get you on the train and bribe the railway officials.

“Once at the border, the broker will arrange a time for crossing the river. In the summer, you might swim with a black rubber boat or the boat might have a string attached to the Chinese side that the brokers there will pull. The brokers might also bribe the border patrol to tell them their shifts so they can cross over then. If they can strike a deal, it becomes easy.

“When I crossed the border, it cost me around 3m Korean won ($2,800). When my daughter came, I paid 6.5m ($6,000). Now, it costs almost 10m won ($9,300). Coming to South Korea will cost you around 15m won ($14,000). Crossing the border is the most expensive part.

“After arriving in South Korea, I …worked as a broker because for every person you help, you made around two to four million Korean won ($1,800 to $3,700).”

North Korean defector describes life at home through cartoons

37-year-old cartoonist Choi Sung-guk explains, “In North Korea, I worked at an animation company, making local versions of The Lion King, Titanic, etc. …I was under surveillance for copying and distributing South Korean movies in the North when I decided to flee in 2010.

“I actually sent out my family first – my mother, sister and my nephew – to China because I was worried. However, after they left, I was arrested and sent to a detention center for six months. I manage to flee the country myself after that detention period was over.

“My trip to South Korea was short and easy. I fled to China, then Laos and then to Thailand before arriving in South Korea. All in 15 days.

“I started working as a program developer and web designer after arriving here [in South Korea]. But I was always interested in comics and cartoons. What I saw here was really boring, so I took up working at a broadcasting network, as a radio jockey and also a journalist and that’s when I started to understand the South Korean society.

“I also realized the cultural differences between the two Koreas and how people had different attitudes towards unification.

“And that’s why I started my webtoon three years ago and help towards reducing the cultural gap. Through my art work, I want to teach people the differences and the similarities we have. I also want to dispel the prejudice the youth has about unification. Sometimes, I will include historical stuff or academic information in order to get people to understand why it is that North and South Koreans are different.”

North Korea’s propaganda victory at the Winter Olympics

The Olympics has been a PR dream come true for the murderous Kim Jong Un dictatorship. South Korea’s Moon administration claims to be using the games to foster goodwill, but the reality is that the Hermit Kingdom has taken this opportunity to stage one of history’s great whitewashing operations, where the breathless focus is on the fashion style of the Dear Leader’s sister instead of his forced labor camps and police state.

North Korea is the worst human rights violator on our planet. Its leaders — including the smiling Kim Yo Jong — are active participants in a totalitarian state that starves, abuses and brainwashes millions of people. The Kim regime keeps tight control over its population through outright violent oppression, but also relies heavily on an elaborate system of censorship, propaganda and indoctrination. North Koreans grow up hearing creation myths about their godlike rulers alongside a warped version of history that places North Korea as both the strongest and most noble nation in the world, and as a victim of “American bastards.” According to Jieun Baek, author of “North Korea’s Hidden Revolution,” “children learn to add and subtract by counting dead American soldiers” and learn to use rifles “in case the ‘Yankee imperialists’ attack.”

The brainwashing works. As defector and human rights activist Yeonmi Park explains, before she decided to defect, she “was not aware, like a fish is not aware of water. North Koreans are abducted at birth, so they do not know the concept of freedom or human rights. They do not know that they are slaves.”

For decades, the regime has tried to maintain a strict censorship of all foreign news, books, movies, TV shows and more, and imposes severe punishments on anyone found consuming forbidden media. Individuals found consuming outside media can face long stints in the country’s reeducation centers, where they are worked nearly to death, tortured and abused by guards and underfed to the point of eating locusts and rats found on prison floors. In some cases, those caught with prohibited media are executed and, typically, such events are done in broad daylight with the local population forced to attend.

[From Washington Post Opinion piece by Garry Kasparov]

North Korean defector in the South arrested for sending 130 tons of grain north

South Korean authorities have arrested a North Korean defector who fled the country in 2011 …for sending 130 tons of rice back to Pyongyang.

The 49-year-old defector was indicted on suspicion of violating the country’s National Security Law and attempting to return to North Korea, which is illegal under South Korean law. According to the authorities, the woman arranged to send two deliveries of 65 tons of rice each to North Korea’s State Security Ministry with the help of a Chinese broker, worth a total of 105 million won ($98,700).

The woman is also accused of sending an additional 80 million won ($75,200) to the broker in preparation for new rice deliveries shortly before she was arrested by the authorities in Suwon, a city in northwestern South Korea approximately 20 miles south of the capital, Seoul.

The defector told the authorities she made contact with the regime because she wanted to go back home to her son and was sending the rice as a sign of loyalty to North Korea in order to avoid being punished for defecting. The woman ran a private business in South Korea but sold her house and personal belongings in preparation for her return to the North, local media reported.

North Korean defector Kim Ryen Hui has staged various public demonstrations of her wish to return to Pyongyang, disrupting a U.N. press conference organized in Seoul in December to accuse South Korea of violating her human rights. The 47-year-old appeared at a border crossing last week as the North Korean art troupe that performed in the South for the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics was heading back. She waved a united Korean Peninsula flag and told the puzzled performers of her desire to go home as government officials blocked her from their view.

[Newsweek]

How to cope with a North Korean refugee crisis

In the event of conflict breaking out in North Korea, analysts expect a large human toll. With a 1,670 kilometre shared border with North Korea, there would undoubtedly be a mass refugee spillover. To be prepared, both China and South Korea need to learn from other refugee emergencies by making three key policy decisions.

1. Adopting a temporary protection regime – Since 2011, the Turkish government has been providing asylum to Syrian nationals under a temporary protection scheme, which provides them with a set of rights, including the right to protection from forcible return, until a solution to their situation is reached. To benefit from this regulatory scheme, Syrian nationals must register themselves with the authorities within a designated time, and are issued identity cards, without which they cannot access vital services such as health care.

2. Allowing them choice of settlement – China and South Korea can emulate the Jordanian model, where Syrian refugees were given a choice to self-settle or stay in one of the designated refugee camps.

3. Including them in the formal economy – While needs in the early emergency phase mainly revolve around relief assistance, as time goes by refugees’ needs change. When refugees do not have a source of livelihood, they resort to negative coping mechanisms, such as child labor and street begging. China and South Korea can get inspiration from the Ugandan model if a refugee influx occurs. In this model, refugees work, pay taxes, and use their entrepreneurial skills to boost the formal economy.

[Read full article at The Conversation]

The North Korean defector’s Hanawon experience

Most defectors from North Korea undergo security questioning by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service for a few days up to several months in extreme cases, before being moved to the Hanawon resettlement center. At Hanawon, they then receive a mandatory three-month education on life in the capitalist South, from taking public transportation to opening a bank account to creating an email address.

“It’s where you would get to see the outside world for the first time, as they take you out to meet people on the streets and learn how to access the social service network. These days, you can also do a home stay with an ordinary South Korean family,” said Ji Seong-ho, a 35-year-old defector who heads Now, Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH), a group that rescues and resettles North Korean refugees.

Such training can be more useful for some people than others, said Kim Jin-soo, a 29-year-old former member of the North Korean secret police who defected to the South in 2011. “Looking back, it would’ve been really useful if they taught …how to prepare for a job fair and find a suitable workplace and why it’s important to lose the North Korean accent,” he said. “Fresh off Hanawon, you’re like a one-year-old baby. But those are the things that would pose a real obstacle when you actually go out there on your own,” said Kim, who now works at a advertising firm in Seoul.

After leaving Hanawon, central and local governments provide defectors 7 million won ($6,450) in cash over a year – barely a fifth of South Korea’s annual average income – as well as support in housing, education and job training. Police officers are assigned to each of the defectors to ensure their security.

[Business Insider]

South Korea halves the time it will interrogate North Korean defectors

South Korea will cut the time it spends interrogating North Korean defectors in half. The country’s Ministry of Unification confirmed to Business Insider it will shorten the questioning period — from up to 180 days down to 90 — for all defectors who arrive to South Korea.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) leads the screening process into defectors’ backgrounds and motivations, partly to ensure they are not North Korean agents. There were no limits on screening periods before 2010, when the 180 day window was introduced. A “joint interrogation center” was opened by NIS in 2008 but after claims of mistreatment the name was changed to a “refugee protection center” and open-door interrogations are now required.

The questioning process usually takes a few weeks, though some escapees are held for several months. Defectors are then sent to Hanawon, a center south of Seoul that provides a three-month mandatory education on life in South Korea. New arrivals learn how to take public transport, open bank accounts and can even do a homestay with a local family. Democracy and capitalism can be the hardest topics for defectors to grasp.

Once they enter society, defectors are provided with $6,450 a year and help with housing and employment. The new limit on interrogations was announced as part of a restructure to help more North Korean arrivals find work.

[Business Insider]

The three Americans who remain detained in North Korea

Just miles from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea — where some observers continue to fawn over Kim Jong Un’s sister and North Korea’s “smile diplomacy” — a trio of Americans remain detained in the Hermit Kingdom.

Concern has only grown for the three Korean-Americans — Kim Hak Song, Kim Dong Chul and Tony Kim — since the death of American college student Otto Warmbier last June after the he spent 17 months locked away in North Korea. The State Department noted that Ambassador Joseph Yun, the special representative for North Korean policy, met with the three Americans in North Korea last June, when Warmbier was released. No U.S. representative has seen them since.

The three detained Americans, ranging in age from 55 to 64, are being held on a variety of vaguely described offenses:

Tony Kim, also known as Kim Sang Duk, 59, was detained by North Korean authorities at Pyongyang International Airport on April 22, 2017. Kim was teaching at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology. South Korean news agency Yonhap reported Tony also engaged in humanitarian work in the North, helping orphanages. In May 2017, Tony Kim was allegedly accused of “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn [North Korea].”

Like Tony, Kim Hak Song, 55, also worked at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology before his detention on May 6, 2017 over unspecified crimes. The school is the only privately funded university in North Korea and is unique for having a large number of foreign staff. He was detained on suspicion of committing “hostile acts” against the country’s government. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology said Kim was doing agricultural development work with the university’s agricultural farm.

Korean-American, Kim Dong Chul, 64, was arrested in October 2015 and is now serving a 10-year term with hard labor for alleged espionage. It’s been reported that Chul was a pastor, and in his public “confession,” Kim said he was a spy for the South Korea intelligence service and was trying to spread Christianity among North Koreans.

[Fox News]