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]

North Korean executions and sex slaves

According to the claims of a 26-year-old female North Korean defector, Kim Jong-un had 11 musicians executed with anti-aircraft guns, and orders aides to pick out sex slaves from North Korea’s schools. She said she was among 10,000 people once forced to watch the execution of musicians accused of making a pornographic video, at Pyongyang’s military academy.

This week Human Rights Watch (HRW) said, “North Koreans who recently escaped to third countries or maintain contacts in the North told HRW that when girls are sexually harassed or abused, some guardians refuse to formally complain to police or other government officials because they believe government officials will not investigate, and the girl and the family will face stigmatization.”

An academic, Dr Colin Alexander, an Asia expert at Nottingham Trent University, told The Independent: “In some cases there probably will be some elements of slavery in North Korea.” Dr Alexander added that the latest revelations fit “a narrative that we’re almost becoming accustomed to hearing”.

He said it was possible that ”somebody with a vested interest has got hold of this defector and has decided that it’s within their interest to approach international media and to run a story about this within the current climate”. He added, “If they’re a defector, and they’ve lived all their lives in North Korea, they will not be very well versed in how the international media works.”

Dr. Alexander also said: “I’m in no way endorsing the Kim regime here. Behind the narrative is most likely somebody, or an organization, with an interest in putting pressure on the Kim regime.

[The Independent]

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]

North Korean defector: “Do not let others’ thoughts rule over you.”

Hak Min grew up in Onsong, a town near the Chinese border. It was images of the world outside of North Korea, picked up on TV signals from China and bootleg videotapes and DVDs that sparked his desire to escape.

The risks of watching these shows were very real. Hak Min was caught with DVDs and sentenced to prison, where he and his friends were tortured. He eventually raised money to pay a black market broker to help him get across the border to China, and from there made his way to Thailand and eventually South Korea.

When Kim Hak Min lived in North Korea, every home prominently displayed a photo of the isolated nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, as well as his son and successor, Kim Jong Il.

Now, having successfully defected and running his own iPhone repair shop in the bustling South Korean capital, the 30-year-old defector has hung a very different portrait on the wall: Apple icon Steve Jobs.

Hak Min was given a biography of Jobs when he escaped to South Korea in 2013, and the late Apple founder became a hero to him.  “When they brainwash students in North Korea they say: ‘We can read your words, actions and thoughts,’” he said. “If you have bad thoughts about the Kim family they will know.

“But,” he continues, “In his book, Jobs said: Do not let others’ thoughts rule over you. Do what you want. Be yourself.”

For Hak Min, the dream is to finish his engineering studies in Seoul and make his way to California’s Silicon Valley to invent world-changing products of his own.

[USA Today]

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]

UN Security Council approves new North Korea sanctions

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously on Monday to impose a new set of sanctions against North Korea after the United States compromised with Russia and China who opposed an even harder line sought by the Trump administration.

The new sanctions set a cap on crude and refined oil exports to North Korea at 8.5 million barrels per year, which represents a 30 percent reduction. The sale of natural gas will be prohibited and refined petroleum sales will be capped at 2 million barrels annually. The Security Council resolution also bans all North Korea textile exports, worth an average of $760 million over the past three years. The sanctions also prohibit nations from authorizing new work permits to North Korean citizens around the world. More than 90,000 North Korean workers employed abroad bring the regime about a half billion dollars a year.

But these measures fall short of the stronger sanctions the U.S. called for after the Pyongyang regime detonated its sixth and most powerful nuclear device last week. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley had pressed for a total oil embargo. She also called for direct penalties, such as an asset freeze and global travel ban, against North Korean leader Kim Young Un. But that proposal was a hard sell to the Russians and Chinese, who hold veto power in the Security Council.

China, North Korea’s top trading partner, is not eager to endorse sanctions that could undermine Pyongyang stability and cause millions of refugees to cross its border.

[NPR]

Kim Jong Un’s power is growing say North Korea defectors

More and more North Korean defectors in the South think Kim Jong Un is strengthening his grip on power, and more than a quarter of those surveyed think Kim’s rule will continue for at least 30 years.

According to the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University, a recent survey indicates more defectors are less confident the Kim regime is weakening, South Korean newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported.

At the same time, nearly 70 percent of those surveyed said they think Kim is doing his job poorly, an indication the North Korean ruler has been able to consolidate his position without necessarily gaining the approval of the people.

But Suh Bo-hyuk, the South Korean researcher who oversaw the survey, said Kim had proved himself by growing the economy despite his pursuit of nuclear weapons.

The survey also shows more defectors are less confident about prospects for unification. More than half of the respondents, or 55.7 percent, said they “believed unification to be impossible” when they lived in the North. Only 26 percent said they think unification is possible “within 10 years,” significantly down from 45 percent in 2016, according to the research.

[UPI]