A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
In the list of urgent priorities awaiting the US president-elect North Korea is likely to be near the top. With the best expert advice suggesting it could have a functioning nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the US within five years, how might Donald Trump deal with Kim Jong-un?
Donald Trump has called Kim Jong-un a “bad dude”. But he also added that he would be prepared to meet him over a hamburger.
And Kim Jong-un seems to have made an assessment of the president-elect. In June, the state-controlled media called Mr Trump a “wise politician” and the right choice for American voters.
In Iowa in January, the American president-elect betrayed a trace of admiration, even as he suggested his counterpart was crazy. “This guy, he’s like a maniac, OK? And you have to give him credit. How many young guys – he was like 26 or 25 when his father died – take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden, you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it,” he said. “I mean, this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him. Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes”.
So what might President Trump do to prevent North Korea fulfilling its ambition to become a fully-fledged nuclear power? On television in February, Mr Trump indicated that he thought China was the key: “China has control – absolute control – over North Korea. They don’t say it, but they do…I would force China to do it economically”.
North Korea’s state security department is wiretapping the homes of people whose family members defected. Residents have also found hidden wires on their bicycles.
A source in North Hamgyong Province told South Korean news service Daily NK that state surveillance of defectors’ families is growing to be a source of distress for people in the area.
“Because they do not know who installed the device, the families of defectors are under tremendous stress,” the source said, adding that when a person who is not a relative stops by, families are saying they need to inspect their homes for hidden bugs afterwards.
Local residents are also wary of unexpected visits by security agents and are refraining from speaking out loud on topics that may lead to questioning.
A source in South Pyongan Province said the state is bolstering propaganda about the regime, and making claims “all would be forgiven” if defectors return to the North. “But locals are not being fooled. They know ‘forgiveness’ is lip service and [returnees] would be under surveillance until they die.”
Female North Korean defectors have an estimated 20,000-30,000 children who were born in China, according to one source. These children are a result of marriages to rural Chinese men, a kind of indentured relationship that is little better than sex slavery, with Chinese men “buying” the women from border traffickers.
“I escaped to China trusting a broker, but ended up being sold for money and had to endure all kinds of abuse as I was dragged from one location to another,” one defector recalls. “Some women who are sold into sexual slavery are stripped naked and locked up so that they cannot escape.”
The children these women have with Chinese men are frequently unable to get legal protection or go to school in China because their mothers are considered illegal immigrants or their fathers refuse to register them as their own.
The problems continue even if these women make it to South Korea with their children. The children are not entitled to the same educational and financial support in South Korea as defectors. A woman surnamed Chung who arrived in South Korea in 2010, said, “I arrived in South Korea with two children I had in China, and they don’t get any assistance, which makes life difficult for us. And a major problem is that they can’t speak much Korean.”
Savvy women lie to South Korean investigators, saying their children were born in the North but only grew up in China, which explains why they do not speak the language. A government source said, “There’s no way to check their place of birth, so we often take their word for it.”
The Education Ministry on Sunday said 1,249 children of North Korean defectors who were born in China went to school in South Korea as of the end of last year, outnumbering the 1,226 students who were born in North Korea.
A South Korean court has dismissed an appeal by a group of defectors in South Korea and Japan, requesting humanitarian relief and protection for their family members imprisoned in North Korean detention camps. This marks the first time that a verdict regarding humanitarian relief for those in North Korean detention camps has been reached by a South Korean court.
Judge Jung Jae Woo announced that the claims of two North Korean defectors to provide humanitarian protection for four family members currently imprisoned at the Yodok political prison camp were dismissed. Such dismissals enable the court to end a trial without hearing if the claims are deemed as improper or unsuitable.
The North Korean Defectors’ Council for the Promotion of Freedom and Unification, which led the current lawsuit, had argued, “North Korea is technically a territory of the Republic of Korea according to the Constitution, therefore, North Korean residents have the same rights according to the law as South Korean citizens.”
The judge explained, “It is almost impossible for the litigators to predict or execute the outcomes of the trial even if the verdict of discharge is made, because there are no mechanisms to enforce it.”
Judge Jung also dismissed a human rights relief petition from Kawasaki Echo (aged 74), president of the defectors’ community ‘Korea of All’ in Japan, requesting the release of 93,340 people who boarded repatriation ships to the North between the years 1959-1984. The dismissal was based on the determination that president Kawasaki was unable to specify the names of the captives or their locations, thereby rendering the petition unsuitable for filing.
The number of North Korean defectors who have arrived in South Korea over the years will reach the 30,000 mark this month, the unification ministry said Sunday.
“As of late October, there are 29,948 former North Koreans in the South so the 30,000 mark should be reached around Nov. 15-16,” an official from the ministry in charge of formulating North Korean policy said.
He said Seoul plans to mark the occasion with a new resettlement policy that will better help escapees integrate into South Korean society. The new plan aims to facilitate greater social participation of North Korea defectors, help them find jobs and concentrate on helping youngsters assimilate into schools and their studies.
There has been a 21 percent spike in defectors reaching the country this year compared to 2015. Official data showed that 2016 marked the first year since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power in late 2011 that the number of defectors increased noticeably. Initially, a drop in numbers was attributed to tighter border control along the North Korea-China frontier which is not generally heavily guarded.
Official sources attributed this year’s increase to the “reign of terror” perpetrated by Kim, and tighter international sanctions that is forcing North Korean workers living abroad to repatriate more money.
Those defectors who cited freedom and discontent over North Korean politics reached 87.8 percent in the 2014-16 period, from 33.3 percent before 2001, and 42.1 percent in the 2002-2005 period.
More than a third of North Korean asylum seekers settling in the South cited freedom as the key motivation for defecting, data has shown.
Hanawon, a facility in which defectors receive three months of resettlement education after making it to South Korea, said 35 percent of the defectors surveyed (2014) said they escaped their homeland to seek liberty, marking a sharp rise from 9.6 percent tallied in 2001.
17.5 percent said they escaped from the North due to the discontent against the communist system, compared with 6.2 percent posted earlier.
As to the makeup of the defectors, women make up 78 percent of the total North Korean refugees now in South Korea.
What do North Koreans think? It’s an impossible question to answer, given that North Korea is a totalitarian state where professing anything other than wholehearted adulation for the Kim regime could land a person in a political prison camp — or worse.
For years, researchers in Seoul have been trying to collect data on North Korean thought by conducting surveys of defectors from North Korea who have escaped from the police state and made it to safety in South Korea.
Now, a new project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, is trying to poll North Koreans who live in North Korea.
“This gives us a window into what the average North Korean citizen is thinking,” said Victor D. Cha, chair of Korea studies at CSIS, who runs the “Beyond Parallel” project dedicated to Korean unification. “This is the first time we’re hearing directly from people inside the country.”
The project contracted a nongovernmental agency that works inside North Korea — Cha would not reveal its name to protect the safety of its operations — to carry out surveys. The NGO surveyed 20 men and 16 women between the ages of 28 and 80. They came from a variety of backgrounds, with jobs including doctor, laborer, homemaker, factory worker and company president, and they lived across the country. The survey was not done through cold calls — the survey administrators knew those they were questioning in some way.
“This isn’t Gallup-level surveying,” Cha said. “It’s only 36 people, but it’s 36 people more than anyone else has surveyed in North Korea. The findings are modest, but they’re pretty insightful.”
According to director Lee Min-yong, this was a watershed year for the North Korean Human Rights International Film Festival, which was launched in 2011 to inform the world of the gross human rights violations occurring in North Korea.
This year, filmmakers started to focus on the lives of North Koreans in the South post-defection. “They looked into the defector community here, their torn sense of identity, and the hardship of trying to fit into a very modern and very different society.”
A record number of films offered diverse perspectives on the lives of both North Koreans and defectors.
For example, Kim Tae-woong’s short film “The Regular Hire” tells the story of a 24-year-old defector who has lived 16 years in Korea and struggles to be a normal office worker.
Two foreign films shot inside North Korea also gave the film fest a significant boost this year: David Kinsella’s “The Wall,” a computer graphic-infused story of a girl from Pyongyang who wants to be a poet, and Vitaly Mansky’s “Under the Sun,” a documentary which follows a North Korean family training to be ideal patriots.
Political satire, jokes at the expenses of national leaders, and outright criticism of the government are normal parts of both public and private lives in democratically based states across the globe.
But North Korea is not a free and open society. So what do North Koreans think about their leaders?
An interview project with North Koreans currently residing in North Korea found that 35 of 36 respondents’ family, friends, or neighbors complain or make jokes about the government in private.
The fact that all but one of the interviewees say people they know complain and makes jokes about the government is an extraordinary number given the gravity with which the North Korean regime responds to criticism.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights (published in February 2014) on the subject of North Korean’s rights and freedoms found that there is “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought… as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion.”
People who express dissent or criticize the state, even if unintentionally, are subject to harsh punishments and detention, often punished without trial. Suspects of political crimes may simply disappear and their relatives may never be notified of the arrest, the charges, or the whereabouts of the alleged criminal. If not executed, citizens accused of major political crimes are sent to a political prison camp.
China on Wednesday announced a US$3 million relief package to North Korea to help it deal with flooding earlier this year that left hundreds dead.
The flooding along the Tumen River, which runs between the two countries, has left about 70,000 homeless. It was triggered by Typhoon Lionrock, which swept through North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces two months ago.