Category: Humanitarian Aid and Relief

Lawyers determine North Korean waitresses abducted to South Korea, not defected

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A group of North Korean waitresses who “defected” to Seoul in 2016 were actually abducted by South Korea, a fact-finding team of international lawyers has concluded after a visit to Pyongyang.

The case has long been controversial, with Pyongyang saying the 12 women were kidnapped from a North Korean state-run restaurant in China, while Seoul insists they defected of their own free will.

During their six-day stay in the North Korean capital, which ended September 5, the lawyers said they spoke to seven former waitresses who claimed they managed to escape, while their colleagues were tricked into coming to Seoul.

The seven North Korean women said they escaped – and eventually return to the North – after their team leader overheard a conversation between the restaurant’s manager and a representative of the South Korean intelligence service.

While the seven escaped, 12 other waitresses had already left without knowing they were being taken to South Korea, the joint fact-finding committee of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers said in a statement.

The 12 women were “taken away by deception … against their will, separated from their families and country”, it said after taking evidence from their seven colleagues. “This constitutes the criminal offense of abduction.”

In a bombshell revelation last year, the manager of the restaurant where the waitresses worked said he had lied to them about their final destination and blackmailed them into following him to the South. Heo Gang-il told the South’s JTBC television that he had been recruited by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) in China in 2014.

At a briefing in Pyongyang, one of the lawyers, Niloufer Bhagwat, vice president of the Confederation of Lawyers of Asia and the Pacific, slammed the Seoul government for its handling of the case.

The team of lawyers said they had received “full cooperation” from the North but were not allowed to meet the 12 North Korean women who are currently in the South. “The young women … are still being monitored by the South Korean intelligence service and the national police agency,” she said.

[AFP]

North Korean defectors in Canada plead their case

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Rocky Kim knew the North Korean regime he was living under was seriously flawed and that he was determined to bring about change. That set in motion a series of events that saw him go from student activist to victim of torture to escapee on the run and, finally, a refugee in Canada.

Yet, now the Canadian government plans to deport him. And Kim is hoping Canadians will hear his story — and those of dozens of other North Korean defectors living there — and agree that they should be allowed to stay.

When Kim arrived in Canada, he took ESL classes, learned English and enrolled at George Brown College. He apprenticed in heating and air conditioning repair and now runs his own HVAC company. The well-dressed Kim proudly states that he pays his taxes and employs several workers. It sounds like the ultimate Canadian immigrant success story. But Kim is slated for deportation.

He’s currently in the process of a pre-removal risk assessment, which is a type of appeal those earmarked for deportation can make if they believe being sent back will put them in harm’s way. There are dozens of North Koreans living in the Greater Toronto Area who are now facing deportation.

But there’s a catch. They’re not being sent back to North Korea. They’re being ordered to get on a plane to Seoul, South Korea.

Many of the defectors in Canada lied on their refugee applications and said they came to Canada directly from North Korea. What Rocky Kim and others are at risk of deportation over is misrepresentation on their application, which is treated as a serious offense.

“The Canadian [government] needs to change its attitude to North Korean defectors,” says Jin Hak Choi, the former president of the National Unification Advisory Council in Toronto. “They have no country.”

It’s this argument — that North Korean defectors are really stateless people — that those up for deportation and their allies are hoping Canadians and the government will agree with.

[Toronto Sun]

Chinese pastor shared his faith with North Koreans then executed, defector claims

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A pastor on the China-North Korea border, Rev. Han Chung-Ryeol, shared his faith with at least 1,000 North Koreans in the Hermit Kingdom before he was assassinated in 2016, a defector claims. Rev. Han, a Chinese pastor of Korean descent, who ministered on the border town of Changbai since the early 1990s, was reportedly on Pyongyang’s most-wanted list as early as 2003 for his faith-based charitable work.

Rev. Han fed and sheltered thousands of North Koreans over the years — many of whom had fled the famine-stricken country in search of food and jobs. One of them, Sang-chul, shared his story in a short documentary from The Voice of the Martyrs: “In primary school, we were taught that all missionaries were terrorists,” Sang-chul shares in the video through a translator. “They told us that a missionary will be nice to you at first, but when they get you into their homes, then they will kill you and eat your liver.”

The North Korean said he didn’t have work or food in his village so he had snuck across the mountain border into China, picking mushrooms along the way in hopes of selling them in a market. He ran into Han, who offered to sell them and give him the money. Sang-chul knew something was different when the pastor didn’t cheat him out of any money, and wondered why a Chinese citizen would help him, knowing the danger.

“It is because I am a Christian,” Han reportedly said, causing the North Korean to be fearful of him.

And then one day Han told him: “God is real. There is hope for every person.” Sang-chul recalls, “I could not believe he would say that word, ‘God.’ Nobody says that word. … It is an act of treason…and can lead to soldiers coming in the night.”

Eventually, Sang-chul asked Rev. Han for a Bible, and then shared the gospel with his wife and best friend, who both found hope before he received the tragic news that Han was stabbed and axed to death by North Korean assassins. “Pastor Han gave his life, but he gave hope to me and to many other North Koreans,” Sang-chul said. “And despite the ever-present danger, many of us will continue to share the message that God is real.”

 [AP]

North Korea tells UN to cut international aid staff in Pyongyang

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North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of international staff it deploys to Pyongyang, saying the organization’s programs have failed “due to the politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces,” according to a letter seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

North Korea wants the number of international staff with the UN Development Programme cut from six to one or two, the World Health Organization from six to four and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to cut its 13 staff by one or two.

In the letter dated August 21, Kim Chang Min, secretary-general for North Korea’s National Coordinating Committee for the United Nations, gave a deadline of the end of the year for the agencies to make the cuts.

Kim said the number of international staff with the World Food Programme should also be reduced “according to the amount of food aid to be provided”, once the agency and North Korean agree how to implement a plan for 2019 to 2021.

The UN estimates 10.3 million people – almost half the country’s population – are in need and some 41 percent of North Koreans are undernourished, while Pyongyang said in February it was facing a food shortfall this year and had to halve rations, blaming drought, floods and sanctions.

“Historically there’s been a critical lack of international expertise and oversight and capacity to monitor the use of the assistance that is provided,” said a UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’re deeply surprised by this turn of events in part because this is when the needs have grown and the UN has been trying to mobilize support to scale up assistance in country.”

The move comes amid stalled talks between the US and North Korea aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. The UN Security Council has tightened sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke funding for those programs.

[Reuters]

North Korean defectors decry autopsy for woman and her child

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North Korean defectors living in South Korea say the government is evading responsibility for the death of a North Korean woman and her infant son in their apartment in southern Seoul, following an autopsy result that did not confirm the cause of the deaths.

Defectors shocked by the deaths of members of their growing community say the result of the autopsy last Friday is a sign South Korean agencies do not want to be blamed for the neglect of the woman with the surname Han, and her young son, Yonhap reported.

Defectors with a group, Hongik Humanity for the World, are demanding a better response while a funeral for the deceased is being postponed, according to the report. The delayed funeral is a cause for concern, said Park Jin-hye of Hongik Humanity. Park said the postponed funeral prevents the dead from resting in peace, a reference to local spiritual beliefs.

“They were neglected for two months after their death [in their apartment], and are being prevented from leaving [this Earth] for 90 days,” Park said.

Han resettled in the South in 2009 and temporarily returned to China before coming back to the South with her second son. They was found dead on July 31, when her building’s technician noticed something odd with her water meter. The woman and her son may have died of starvation at least a month before local authorities entered their apartment to find their decomposing corpses.

Defectors have said South Koreans remain indifferent to their plight despite increased efforts in Seoul in the area of inter-Korea engagement.

[UPI]

Two sides to the blame game

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Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, told UPI that North Koreans in the South are in dire need of better networks from which they can seek help in difficult times. Most North Koreans are not ready for life in the advanced and industrialized South. About 80 percent of defectors are women, come from rundown areas “even by North Korean standards,” and do not have high school degrees, Scarlatoiu said.

Scarlatoiu said it is easy to pin blame on the South Korean government for the recent tragedy of a North Korean refugee mother and disabled son who apparently starved to death in Seoul. But one must also remember that South Korea continues to improve upon support programs for defectors that include vocational training, extra remuneration for defectors who keep their jobs and maintain savings accounts. All defectors receive substantial financial support upon arrival, a “pilot program for Korean unification,” the analyst said.

Casey Lartigue, a co-founder of Seoul-based Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center, said he dismisses the idea that a lack of state support in the South is responsible for the recent tragedy. “The danger is not that the South Korean government is not doing enough, but rather, that it is doing too much and is expected to do even more for North Korean refugees,” Lartigue said.

“The surprise is not that a refugee starved to death, but that more don’t do so, because the various levels of South Korean government seem to be teaching North Korean refugees learned helplessness.”

Lartigue, who has helped hundreds of North Korean refugees learn English through his volunteer program, said defectors need to seek help from people they know rather than suffering in silence or isolation.

Public opinion polls continue to indicate high levels of anxiety and unhappiness prevail among the majority of the North Korean refugee population. “From what I have heard, about 35 South Koreans on average commit suicide every day,” Lartigue said.

[UPI]

North Korea defector’s death highlights plight of trafficked women

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The deaths of a North Korean defector and her young son in their apartment in Seoul have shocked Korea. And the incident is also shedding light on the difficulties faced by South Korea’s overwhelmingly female population of North Korean refugees.

Jung Gwang-il, founder of activist group No Chain in Seoul, said the refugee mother Han slipped through the cracks of South Korea’s support system for resettled North Koreans while struggling with domestic violence and a disabled child.

Han met her “husband,” a Chinese citizen whom she later divorced, after her initial escape to China where she was the target of human trafficking. After Han was granted residence in the South in 2009, her husband followed her, and the couple had a second child. The child was born with disabilities because Han’s spouse beat her during her pregnancy, Jung said, recounting conversations he’s had with other defectors.

Human-and sex-trafficking practices in northeast China explain why the majority of defectors in the South and in China are women. First of all, North Korean women defectors are able to leave their country easier, because women are less noticed when they go missing, defectors have said. And in China there is a high demand for women of reproductive age in rural areas, where male Chinese nationals buy undocumented “wives”.

Jung, who survived abuses at a North Korean prison camp, said “almost all” North Korean women fall prey to trafficking or choose to be trafficked due to poverty. Han was no exception.

Han was found dead in Seoul on July 31. The woman and her son may have died of starvation at least a month before local authorities entered her apartment and found their decomposing corpses, South Korean media reported.

“These are people who left North Korea because they were hungry,” Jung said. “To come all the way to South Korea and then to starve — that doesn’t make any sense.”

[UPI]

K-pop inspiration to young North Koreans

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Former defectors based in South Korea have long understood the power of foreign news and culture in countering the regime’s propaganda. Projects such as Flash Drives for Freedom smuggle in USB sticks loaded with Hollywood movies and American television shows, as well South Korean dramas and music videos.

But growing private enterprise may be the most powerful driver of change, with videos brought in en masse by traders who cross back and forth from China. The risks for viewers are real though, with a special unit of the police and security services known as Group 109 in charge of a renewed crackdown. Even minors who are caught can face six months to a year of ideological training in a reeducation camp – unless their parents can bribe their way out – while adults can face a lifetime of hard labor or, for sensitive material, even execution.

As far as the music, it’s not just the melodies and lyrics that prove catchy, it’s also the performers’ clothes and hairstyles. “The kind of thing I wanted to do was dye my hair and wear miniskirts and jeans,” said Kang Na-ra, 22. “Once I wore jeans to the market, and I was told I had to take them off. They were burned in front of my eyes.”

Kang, who had been a singer at an arts high school in Pyongyang, defected in 2014, so “I could express myself freely.” Now she has a successful career as a TV personality and an actress.

[San Francisco Gate]

Starvation death of North Korean defector and her child shocks South Korea

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The death of a North Korean woman and her child in their apartment in Seoul is raising questions about South Korean state support for defectors who resettle in the South, according to a local press report.

The woman, who was found dead with her 6-year-old son in her home in late July, may have died from starvation.

The woman, only identified by her surname Han, was in her early 40s, according to Seoul’s Gwanak District police. She may have no longer been eligible for a monthly stipend from the South Korean government at the time of her death.

After resettlement, Han the woman defector had apparently left South Korea, and married an ethnic Korean man from China. Han later returned to the South in 2018 after a divorce.

A South Korean unification ministry official said current law provides support for defectors up to the fifth year of resettlement. The official also acknowledged that Han’s death indicates a “blind spot” is posing problems for defectors who continue to face difficulties adjusting to South Korea’s capitalist society.

[UPI]

North Korea drought intensified in July

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North Korea experienced worsening drought through July, a sign extreme weather conditions have been amplified due to record high temperatures and a heat wave affecting the region.

International agency GEOGLAM, the Group on Earth Observations Global Agricultural Monitoring Initiative, said the drought situation is worsening in North Korea, particularly in the central and southern regions, Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday.

GEOGLAM said Pyongyang, the capital, in addition to North and South Hwanghae provinces, have not received rain for three months, from May to July. The dry weather has damaged crops, and surveys indicate this year’s corn crops are showing lower levels of above-ground biomass, compared to 2018.

Water reservoirs are at lower levels than a year ago, according to the report.

[UPI]