Category: Humanitarian Aid and Relief

What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

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Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]

South Korean aid for North Korea

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South Korea has vowed to move quickly on its plans to provide $8 million worth of humanitarian aid to North Korea through international organizations and is also considering sending food to the country that says it’s suffering its worst drought in decades.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday it will discuss its plans with the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund so the aid reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly.

Seoul hopes the aid will help revive diplomacy and engagement with Pyongyang that tapered off amid a stalemate in nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea. But Seoul has yet to decide on concrete plans amid public frustration over recent North Korean missile tests.

[AP]

North Korean woman said she was “living like an animal” in her country

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A woman who defected from North Korea last year planned and executed her escape on her own, she said, because North Korean authorities have caught and killed most of the brokers who used to smuggle people over the border to South Korea.

She was fed up with “living like an animal” in her country where she struggled daily to survive.

To make her escape, she crossed the frozen river that runs along the China border, climbed over a barbed wire fence, and walked for two hours through knee-deep piles of snow in the middle of the night. In one hand she carried poison, in case she was caught by soldiers guarding the border.

Eventually she came upon a small village, where she hoped to find other North Koreans who had escaped and would be sympathetic to her cause. She approached a house with a light in the window, and found a Chinese man instead. She begged to make just one phone call to friends of friends living in South Korea. “The man was very kind, he offered me food and offered me a warm place to stay, and so I was able to eat and he helped me contact my friends.”

She eventually made her way to South Korea, and was astounded to find hot and cold running water, and working toilets. “The toilets — there is water in there, and it cleans out right away. That was just the most amazing thing.”

She recently made it to the U.S. “I [was] shocked when I was in South Korea, but when I came to America, … it just blew my mind. I grew up being told Americans are all like wolves, and our enemy that we must destroy, and I was bombarded with that kind of education,” she added. “But when I actually came and met Americans, they were very warm and kind people.”

Now in the States, she plans to pursue a career in medicine, and hopes one day to return to her neighborhood in a free North Korea. “I believe this is not just my dream, but it’s a dream of all those people who escape from North Korea, and also the people who still suffer there,” she said.

[The Daily Caller]

Lowest rainfall in 100 years in North Korea leaves millions at risk of starvation

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North Korea’s worst drought in decades is being driven by the lowest rainfall in a century, according to the country’s official state newspaper.

North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper—the official publication of Kim Jong Un’s ruling party—blamed the ongoing drought on lower than expected levels of precipitation. The newspaper said North Korea received just 56.3 millimeters (2.21 inches) of rain or snow from January to May 15, the lowest amount since 1917. The article noted that water was running out in the country’s lakes and reservoirs, and explained the lack of rainfall “is causing a significant effect on the cultivation of wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and beans,” according to Al Jazeera.

Yonhap reported that South Korean authorities are preparing to send food to North Korea if the situation deteriorates. Any food aid may give a shot in the arm to stalled negotiations between the North, South and U.S. on the denuclearization of the peninsula and the lifting of sanctions, the agency noted.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme (WFP) said more than 10 million North Koreans—representing some 40 percent of the national population—were already facing severe food shortages. Such an extensive drought will likely exacerbate such food pressures, leaving many at risk of starvation. The report said that North Koreans have been surviving on just 300g (10.5 oz) of food each day so far this year. During a visit to South Korea earlier this week, WFP Executive Director David Beasely told reporters the body has “very serious concerns” about the situation in North Korea.

Last week, Mohamed Babiker, the head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies’ North Korea office, said the organization was “particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive. Even before this drought, one in five children under 5 years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies.”

Thus far, there is no suggestion the drought could spark a famine as severe as the one that is believed to have killed millions of North Koreans in the 1990s.

[Newsweek]

Human Rights Watch speak in defense of North Korean defectors detained in China

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China should not forcibly deport seven detained North Koreans who face a grave risk of torture and other abuses if returned to North Korea, Human Rights Watch said.

South Koreans assisting relatives of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the three women, three men, and a pre-teen girl in the group are being detained in Liaoning province. Some of the group left North Korea in recent weeks and others have lived for several years in China’s border area. Chinese authorities apprehended them on April 28, 2019.

“China should not send these seven people back to North Korea where they face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other horrors,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Beijing should immediately allow them to travel to a third country.”

“China should end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans,” Robertson said. “China should protect these seven North Koreans, both complying with its international obligations and sending Pyongyang a message that it won’t ignore North Korea’s abuses.”

[Human Rights Watch]

US and South Korean position on North Korea

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U.S. President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in discussed North Korea’s recent short-range missile test as well as a recent joint food security assessment from the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

A UN report published on Friday concluded that 10.1 million North Koreans remained food insecure and predicted falling crops yields, expanding food shortfalls and noted lower Public Distribution System (PDS) rations. “Overall, it is estimated that 10.1 million people (40 percent of the population) are food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance,” the report reads. “Prolonged dry spells, abnormally high temperatures and floods, coupled with limited supplies of agricultural inputs, had a severe impact on yields of the 2018 main crops harvested last September/October.”

“President Trump assessed that South Korea’s provision of food to North Korea in a humanitarian move will be very timely and a positive step and supports it,” Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung said

Countries are not prohibited from sending humanitarian aid to North Korea, though some items like farming machinery, industrial and medical equipment must first be granted a sanctions exemption from the UN, which can slow down the aid delivery process.

The two leaders also talked about how to keep diplomacy moving forward with North Korea despite recent missile tests, which was likely a new kind of short-range ballistic missile (SRBM).  “We still believe that there is an opportunity to get a negotiated outcome where we get fully verified denuclearization. Chairman Kim has repeated that,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told U.S. media over the weekend.

[NK News]

Activists urge China to not repatriate North Korean defectors

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Activists have been urging China not to repatriate seven North Koreans who were detained in an eastern Chinese province after leaving their homeland. The group, which includes a nine-year-old girl, fled North Korea and were then detained by Chinese authorities in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to activists.

China regularly sends defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment including forced labor, imprisonment, torture, or execution. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, China has increased the number of guards and laid more barbed wire fencing along the border.

The nine-year-old girl’s mother, who left North Korea several years ago and now lives in South Korea, participated in a recent demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. “I’m worried about my young daughter and her safety … it’s been three years since I’ve seen my daughter,” said the woman, her voice quivering.

Though not common, China has in the past released North Korean defectors. In 2018, China freed 30 defectors, following international pressure, according to South Korean media reports. Many activists complain North Korean human rights have become less of a priority amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Though China has signed the United Nations refugee convention, it does not recognize North Koreans as refugees. It instead sees them as illegal economic migrants.

[VoA]

North Korean defector Oh Chong Song

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It was a dash for freedom that was caught on camera and captivated the world: a North Korean defector being peppered with bullets as he tried to flee his authoritarian homeland at the Demiiltarized Zone. But in his first television interview with a U.S. broadcaster, defector Oh Chong Song said he does not blame his former colleagues for shooting him five times as he ran for the border in November 2017.

“In their situation I would have fired the gun. It’s not a matter of friendship,” he told NBC News on Monday, almost 18 months after his dramatic escape. “I understand them because if I were in their shoes I would have done the same thing.”

On Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance cameras captured the moment Oh smashed through a military checkpoint in a green jeep and raced toward the DMZ, members of his own unit chasing him down. Had he been caught, Oh says he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

His escape bid crunched to a halt yards from the boundary as his jeep became stuck in a ditch. With the chasing North Korean soldiers almost upon him, he climbed out of the car and started to run, the border just yards away.

“I was extremely terrified,” he said. “I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle. Even I can’t believe something like this happened. … I can’t believe it’s me in the video.”

The footage shows Oh running between two trees, just as several North Korean soldiers scramble to take up positions behind him and open fire. The hail of bullets tore through Oh, at least five shots hitting him directly.

It took a moment for South Korean soldiers to crawl to him and drag him to cover. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he said. “At this point, when they were coming to rescue me, I was unconscious.”

Doctors who operated on Oh said it was a “miracle” he survived. Among those credited with saving his life was Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh of San Antonio, Texas, a member of the medevac crew who flew Oh to a hospital in Suwon, the South Korean capital.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him,” Oh said. “If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.”

[NBC]

My name is Prisoner 42

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Anyone in North Korea who is discovered to be a Christian is quickly eradicated from society into detention centers, re-education camps and maximum-security hard labor prison camps known as the Kwan-li-so where political prisoners are often sent.

“Open Doors” estimates there are 250,000 imprisoned North Koreans—50,000 of which are political prisoners jailed for their Christian faith. Following, a North Korean prison camp survivor walks us through her difficult journey in a North Korean prison:

I was in China because I needed to feed myself and my family. It was there that I met some Christians. I was touched by them. They never really spoke about the gospel, but I participated in their worship services.

Then one day a black car pulled up next to me. I thought the man wanted to ask for directions, but the driver and other men stepped out of the car and grabbed me. I tried to get away, but they pushed me into the car.

After a few weeks in a Chinese prison cell, I was brought to this North Korean prison. The first day, I had to strip off all my clothes, and they searched every part of my body to see if I had hidden anything, money especially. They shaved off all my hair and brought me to a prison cell. 

The name I was born with was the first thing they took away from me when I arrived at the prison. Every morning at 8 a.m., they call for “42.” To get to them, I have to crawl on my elbows through the cat-flap. When I stand up, I must keep my head down. I’m not allowed to look at the guards.

Each day begins the same. I put my hands behind my back and follow the guards to the interrogation room. Each day for an hour, they ask the same questions: “Why were you in China?”, “Are you a Christian?”,  “Who did you meet”, “Did you go to church?”, and “Did you have a Bible?”

Every day, I’m beaten and kicked—it hurts the most when they hit my ears. My ears ring for hours, sometimes days. The space in my cell is so small I can barely lie down. It isn’t often that I get to lie down. They force me to sit on my knees with closed fists and never allow me to open them. 

[Read full story of this North Korean defector]