Chronicling the escape from North Korea

Christianity Today features a review of Melanie Kirkpatrick’s new book, excerpts following:

In Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad (Encounter), Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick labors … to set the record straight on survivors who have fled North Korea. She tells a story of bravery, luck, disappointment, and death; of Christian activists and money-hungry brokers united behind a simple Mosaic invocation: Let my people go.

Until the mid-1990s, there wasn’t much to be gained by rushing the 880-mile border with China. With borders sealed and news of the outside world scarce, few ordinary North Koreans escaped. But when a crippling famine struck and a sudden Chinese prosperity beckoned, the trickle of refugees swelled to nearly half a million, its path smoothed by a relaxation of restrictive internal policies. Freedom, religious or otherwise, never entered their political vocabulary. Most fled simply out of hunger.

Yet North Korea receives less international attention than other failed states. It does not have the status of an “Asian Darfur.” Nor is the degradation of its people widely understood, even among South Koreans or Korean Americans.

Culpability for this apathy and ignorance, argues Kirkpatrick, belongs at least partly to South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, whose “Sunshine” policy (1998-2008) muted official criticisms of the Pyongyang regime in an effort to build good will. Activists and aid workers now call this period the “Lost Decade.”

Chinese intransigence makes the situation still worse. In contravention of international law, it remains official Chinese policy to hand North Korean refugees back to North Korea, where they face torture, incarceration, and possibly death.

Here is a rare book that puts human faces on the numbers, a lamentation over policies and duplicities that have haunted a people terribly divided.

 

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