Author Archives for Grant Montgomery

We must find a way to care for another

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[Excerpted from The Catalyst] I come from North Korea. I saw people die of starvation, including my own father when I was 12 years old.

I am often reminded of the fact that choosing between eating and not eating is a privilege. In many parts of this world, people live in fear of dying from hunger.

The 1990s famine in North Korea took millions of lives, my father’s being one of them. My older sister was sold to a man in China. I lost my mom to a North Korean prison.

Then, it was just me, all by myself living on the streets. When I could not fall asleep from the bitter cold and hunger pains, I hoped that my sister would find me the next morning and wake me up with my favorite food. That hope kept me alive.

When I approached people in the food courts in the city markets, they would cover their nose and swat me away as though I were a fly. They called me homeless, orphan, and beggar. Some even called me human trash. Those words hurt me because I was also someone else’s precious son and brother. Before I had a chance to decide who I was on my own terms, my identity was defined by others.  

During this time, my dream used to be having a day where I could have three meals a day. I often wondered when I could eat; not whether I should eat. My parents and sister weren’t the most educated, but they did not fail to let me know how much they loved me. That simple knowledge of being loved kept me going.

Now, I am a former North Korean refugee living in the U.S., [one of the few] lucky ones.

Millions of refugees still suffer from constant threats to their lives, loss of human dignity, and severe shortages of food. Protecting refugees in these situations is costly. But failing to save them is even more expensive. When international politics leaves them unattended or neglected, we lose part of our humanity and civilization takes a step backward.   Read more

The plight of refugees matters to everyone

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Even for me, it’s impossible not to flinch when I hear or read testimonials of North Korean refugees. The report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (COI) reveals how an imprisoned-woman’s baby was “thrown in the feeding bowl for the (prison guard’s) dog,” according to  a former North Korean prison guard’s testimony.

We cannot turn a blind eye to those who are destroying our very own humanity. And let me state a fact: being a refugee is not a crime.  

The number of refugees admitted into the United States, however, has been in sharp decline. Don’t get me wrong: America must make sure that refugees are not simply being dumped on our borders. At the same time, we should remain a beacon for people seeking freedom.

Fortunately, we have organizations that seek to save refugees. For example, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a nonprofit organization started by college students,  has rescued 1,000 North Korean refugees. We can all make a difference by joining organizations like LiNK.

By now you might be asking, why should we help people who live far away when we have our own poverty and socio-economic disparity at home? Unfortunately, there is no other way around this, but all lives are not only precious, their well-being affects our own well-being. As President Bush says, “how others live matters.” 

Living up to our moral responsibilities and principles is how we sustain and preserve our humanity. And improving the quality of other people’s lives, including those of refugees, helps our own lives.

[Read full article at The Catalyst]

Rumors the US will stop admitting any refugees

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North Korean Joseph Kim lost his father to starvation, his mother to prison, and his sister was sold off. He was homeless and starving by age 12 and dreamed of “living a day with three meals.”

Kim managed to escape North Korea and made it to the U.S. as a refugee.

Recently, reports have emerged that the Trump administration is considering lowering the number of refugees admitted to the U.S. to zero.

“Living up to our moral responsibilities and principles is how we sustain and preserve our humanity. And improving the quality of other people’s lives, including those of refugees, helps our own lives,” Kim wrote in a recent essay in the Catalyst.

Many faith groups have pointed out that the rumored cut would effectively eliminate the country’s refugee resettlement program altogether, according to Politico.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement site still states, “U.S. policy allows refugees of special humanitarian concern entrance into our country, reflecting our core values and our tradition of being a safe haven for the oppressed.” But the latest rumors from within the Trump administration have thrown this core value into question, especially for the religious groups that have traditionally worked as partners with the federal government to serve refugees once they arrive in the United States.

Last year, the U.S. officially accepted the lowest number of refugees since 1980,  when their refugee admissions program was established. Only a couple years back (2017), a ceiling of 110,000 was set by former President Barack Obama before Donald Trump took office.

[Deseret News]

North Korean soldier defects after crossing DMZ

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South Korea has detained a North Korean soldier who crossed the heavily guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ) that divides the two Koreas.

He was detected by thermal imaging equipment, said South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JSC). The unidentified man was an active-duty soldier who expressed interest in defecting to Seoul, said the JCS.

The man was first detected late at around midnight on Wednesday near the Imjin river, which flows from North Korea into South Korea across the DMZ on the west of the peninsula. He was picked up by South Korean troops and taken into military custody.

While dozens of people escape North Korea every year, defections across the DMZ are extremely dangerous and rare. In November 2017, a North Korean soldier was shot at 40 times by his fellow troops as he crossed the zone, but lived to fulfill his escape.


North Korea’s missile tests raise stakes for Trump’s personal diplomacy with Kim

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North Korea’s return to missile testing after a long hiatus raises the stakes for President Trump ahead of planned nuclear negotiations, undermining his claim that his personal relationship with dictator Kim Jong Un has reduced the threat from North Korea and made Asian allies safer.

The short-range weapons are a threat to U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, or potentially to U.S. forces in the region. North Korea says its testing is a warning to South Korea, which is resuming joint military exercises with the United States in August and is also acquiring American F-35 stealth fighter jets.

The challenge from Kim to Trump is also clear and appears aimed at squeezing concessions from the U.S. leader when negotiators meet after months of delay. That session is expected soon, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday.

In an interview Wednesday evening on Fox Business Network, national security adviser John Bolton said the tests do not break a pledge Kim made to Trump that he would not test intercontinental ballistic missiles. He added a note of caution, “You have to ask if, when, the real diplomacy is going to begin, when the working-level discussions on denuclearization will begin.”

Trump downplayed a similar launch last week, saying many nations test short-range weapons. “My relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good one, as I’m sure you’ve seen,” Trump said Tuesday, hours before the latest launch. “We’ll see what happens. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I know one thing: that if [Hillary Clinton] was president … you would be in a major war right now with North Korea.” Trump added, “I have a good relationship with [Kim Jong Un]. I like him; he likes me,” Trump said Tuesday. “We’ll see what happens.”

Kim’s calculation may be that the tests unnerve and weaken both the United States and South Korea, but that Trump would not retaliate by canceling talks or taking other actions so long as Kim does not directly confront or insult him.

[Washington Post]

Trump tells North Korean defector he’ll bring up Christian persecution in talks with Kim Jong Un

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After Donald Trump became the first sitting president to step foot in North Korea last month, many human rights groups have advocated for future talks to include human rights abuses committed by dictator Kim Jong Un, something absent from previous talks.

A few days ago, President Trump told a North Korean defector he would bring up religious persecution in his ongoing talks with Communist North Korea, which outlaws Christianity.

Ilyong Ju, a Christian from North Korea, one of 27 survivors of religious persecution invited to the Oval Office, shared his family’s story: “My aunt, all of my aunt’s family…are in political prison camp now…just because my aunt’s father-in-law was a Christian.”

Ju, a LiNK Advocacy Fellow, shared, “and my cousin’s whole family were executed because of their sharing the gospel.”

Trump shook his head and mouthed what appeared to be “awful.”

“But even though the persecution of Kim Jong Un, … North Korean citizens …want the gospel and they are worshiping in underground churches right now. …”

“I’m understanding exactly what you’re saying,” Trump said. “I’ll bring it up.”

Ju responded: “Yes, please.”

[Fox News]

American explains his CIA spy role in North Korea

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An American citizen whose May 2018 release was secured by President Donald Trump has detailed his experiences in a North Korean prison camp after getting caught spying for the CIA and the South Korean intelligence service.

Speaking with NK News, Kim Dong Chul said he spied for the CIA for around six years before being caught and sent to a labor camp, where he suffered torture at the hands of his North Korean guards. Kim, who once lived in Virginia was living in China before his arrest.

Kim confessed to spying soon after his arrest in 2015, admitting to supplying South Korea’s National Intelligence Agency with sensitive information. North Korean media at the time said the businessman was detained while “perpetrating… state subversive plots and espionage against” the North.

Kim told NK News that he had also been working for the CIA, passing along intelligence he was able to access thanks to his work at the Rason Special Economic Zone, which established by Pyongyang to encourage economic growth via foreign investment. The businessman described the information as “very significant,” and explained how he “filmed footage with a watch and used electromagnetic wave wiretapping equipment.” He was also tasked with recruiting double agents across the nation, with a specific focus on unearthing information regarding the North’s military and nuclear capabilities, Kim explained.

His last mission was to investigate a suspicious vessel at the Rajin port, identified as of interest to the CIA after being spotted on satellite images. The agency asked Kim “to take very close-up photos of it and figure out what it was being used for.” Kim delivered the information prior to being arrested in 2015. North Korean authorities said he was found with a USB stick containing military and nuclear secrets when he was detained in Rason, the BBC reported in 2016.

Kim detailed how his mental state and physical health quickly deteriorated under the pressure of torture and then forced labor. “I became a traitor overnight and was locked up in a forced labor camp,” he said. “I hit rock bottom.” Kim was beaten repeatedly and tortured in other ways as North Korean agents sought to uncover possible networks of fellow spies and double agents. The abuse left him partially paralyzed and even drove him to attempt suicide. Regardless, “I could not die,” Kim recalled.

After a one-day trial, Kim was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor at a prison camp, where he was kept isolated from fellow prisoners. Kim was eventually freed alongside Pyongyang University of Science and Technology lecturers Tony Kim and Kim Hak Song in 2018.


North Korean economy tanks as sanctions and drought bite

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North Korea’s economy shrank in 2018 for a second straight year, and by the most in 21 years, as it was battered by international sanctions aimed at stopping its nuclear programme and by drought, South Korea’s central bank said on Friday.
– North Korea’s gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by 4.1% last year in real terms, the worst since 1997 and the second consecutive year of decline.
– Their international trade fell 48.4% in value in 2018 as toughened international sanctions cut exports by nearly 90%, the worst loss in exports since the central bank started publishing data nearly 30 years ago.
– Output in the mining sector shrank 17.8% because of sanctions on exports of coal and minerals, while the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector contracted by 1.8% because of drought.

North Korea’s population, estimated at 25.13 million, has a per head annual income of $1,298, the South Korean central bank said.

The United States and South Korea say tightening international sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes have been instrumental in leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to pursue denuclearisation talks with the United States.

Last week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said rates of malnutrition and disease were increasing in North Korea as it faces a harvest that is half of what was expected. James Belgrave, an official at the U.N. World Food Programme who visited North Korea in April, said recently that there had been a drop of up to 20% in North Korea’s wheat and barley production due to an early dry spell.

[Nikkei Asian Review]

Trump is letting Kim Jong Un do almost anything he wants

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In just the past week, North Korea has unveiled a brand new submarine that could potentially launch nuclear weapons and tested two short-range missiles that gravely threaten US allies South Korea and Japan.

The casual observer could understandably expect President Donald “fire and fury” Trump and his hawkish administration to respond forcefully to these new provocations. But the opposite has happened: They’re taking the barrage with a degree of calm virtually unseen before from this administration. In fact, they’re actively downplaying — and in some cases even defending — North Korea’s actions.

Trump told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that Kim’s missile tests didn’t worry him at all. “They haven’t done nuclear testing, they really haven’t tested missiles other than, you know, smaller ones, which is something that lots [of countries] test,” he said.

That view is fairly consistent with his past statements: As long as Kim doesn’t test a nuclear weapon or a long-range missile, Trump is happy. … The potential problem, though, is that the Trump administration’s approach could produce more issues down the line.

“Maybe they’re picking their battles to focus on resuming much-needed negotiations for a deal,” Duyeon Kim, a North Korea expert at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, told me. “But [they’re] telling South Korea and Americans living there that they don’t matter.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the US Defense Intelligence Agency assesses that North Korea may have produced 12 nuclear weapons since Trump and Kim first shook hands in Singapore last year. That, added to the new potentially nuclear-launching submarine and further-tested missiles, means Kim has a greater arsenal at his disposal now than when his diplomacy with Trump started.


Pyongyang as experienced by foreign student Alek Sigley

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Alek Sigley was a 29-year-old postgraduate student studying in North Korea, pursuing a master’s degree in Korean literature. On or around June 26, after spending more than a year in Pyongyang as a foreign student, Sigley was detained by North Korean authorities. The state-run Korean Central News Agency said that Sigley was caught spying by “systemically collecting and offering data” to media outlets with critical views toward North Korea. The agency later said Sigley was deported from the country on July 4 out of “humanitarian leniency,” after he “admitted his spying acts” and “repeatedly asked for pardon.”

Sigley broke his silence on Twitter several days later, saying the allegation that he is a spy is “false”. And “I may never again walk the streets of Pyongyang, a city that holds a very special place in my heart.” While life in the capital for a foreign student is not representative of life for ordinary citizens across the country, Sigley’s experience does offer a rare glimpse into North Korea’s opaque society and some of the changes that may be underway in Pyongyang.

Sigley, who grew up in Perth, Australia, studied abroad in China in 2011, where he lived in a dormitory at Shanghai’s Fudan University and happened to be on the same floor as North Korean students. “I thought this would be really an interesting opportunity to just get to know some North Koreans as actual people.” Sigley made his first trip to North Korea in 2012 as a tourist, spending five nights in Pyongyang, where he met some people there in the local travel industry who inspired him a year later to start an Australian-based company that specializes in educational tourism to North Korea.

Enrolling in Kim Il Sung University as a foreign student some years later, Sigley said he had much more access to Pyongyang than tourists did and could explore most areas without a guide. Tourists, including diplomats and humanitarian workers, must be accompanied by guides to use the metro and other means of transportation. Locals and foreigners wishing to travel within the country need a permit issued by local authorities and proper identification, which are verified at numerous checkpoints within and between provinces.

Sigley said he dressed plainly and is half-Chinese, which allowed him to “blend in” better than some other foreigners. “But I do sometimes notice people looking at me,” he told ABC News.   Read more