Over 80% of North Korean defectors found to have tuberculosis

A report by the South Korean government’s settlement center for North Korean defectors revealed that 81 percent of over 3,000 tested people who fled from the North to the South were infected with tuberculosis (TB). Jeon Jeong-hee, a nursing officer at the Hanawon settlement center, released her findings at the “North Korea Tuberculosis and Healthcare Symposium” at the Seoul City Hall on Thursday.

Among those aged 40 or more, 90 percent were positive.

Jeon said such findings could signal that North Korea had difficulties in the distribution and supply of TB vaccines and not enough facilities to keep medicines refrigerated.

In the North, according to defectors, it was common to diagnose TB without any X-ray test to patients who had a fever or diagnose TB after touching the belly. The patients had to purchase TB drugs at a market without any prescription, they said.

For North Korean TB patients, it is difficult to buy TB treatments continuously because they are expensive. Considering a North Korean worker’s monthly wage is about 1,600 won on average, paying 15,000 won for a one-month streptomycin was a luxury.

Due to such financial burdens, North Koreans, including TB patients, turn to folk remedies, Jeon said. To treat TB, they took pear juice, ginger juice, traditional herbal medicines, and moxibustion.

[Korea Biomedical Review]

Illegal trade and activity have blossomed in North Korea

From the biggest cities to the smallest villages in North Korea, there is now some kind of market building where people can sell their wares and keep their profits. Some are state-run, some are state-sanctioned, some are ad hoc.

A doctor (42) who defected in 2014 explained, “The salary for doctors was about 3,500 won a month. That was less than it cost to buy one kilogram of rice! So of course, being a doctor was not my main job. My main job was smuggling at night. I would send herbal medicine from North Korea into China, and with the money, I would import home appliances back into North Korea. Rice cookers, notels, LCD monitors, that kind of thing.”

As the economy and the rules that govern it have change in North Korea, there are more and more gray areas that can be exploited which means that illegal trade and activity have also blossomed.

Said a drug dealer (46) who defected in 2014: “I worked as a broker transferring money and connecting people in North Korea with people in South Korea through phone calls. I arranged reunions for them in China. I also smuggled antiques out of North Korea, as well as ginseng and pheasants, and sold them in China.
“And I dealt ‘ice’ [methamphetamines]. 70 or 80 percent of the adults in Hoeryong city were using ice. My customers were just ordinary people. Police officers, security agents, party members, teachers, doctors. Ice made a really good gift for birthday parties or for high school graduation presents.
“It makes you feel good and helps you release stress. My 76-year-old mother was using it because she had low blood pressure, and it worked well.
“Lots of police officers and security agents would come to my house to smoke, and of course I didn’t charge them — they were my protection. They would come by my house during their lunch break. The head of the secret police in my area was almost living at my house.”

Increasingly, North Koreans are not fleeing their totalitarian state because they are hungry, as they did during the 15 or so years following the outbreak of a devastating famine in the mid-1990s. Now, they are leaving because they are disillusioned.

[Washington Post]

The market in the North Korean bastion of socialism

In theory, North Korea is a bastion of socialism, a country where the state provides everything, housing, health care, education and jobs.

In reality, at this point in time the state economy barely operates. People working in factories and fields find there is little for them to do, and they are paid almost nothing. Meanwhile, a vibrant private economy has sprung up out of necessity, one where people find ways to make money on their own, whether through selling homemade tofu or dealing drugs, smuggling small DVD players with screens called “notels” over the border, or extracting bribes.

As a university student who defected in 2013 related, “North Korea technically has a centrally planned economy, but now people’s lives revolve around the market. No one expects the government to provide things anymore. Everyone has to find their own way to survive.”

While men had to continue to show up for work in dormant factories, women would turn corn into noodles, and homeless children would steal manhole covers to sell as scrap metal.

A farmer who defected in 2014 recalls, “We lived in the city center, but we rented some land in the foothills and grew corn there. During planting and harvest season, we would wake up at 4 a.m. and walk three hours to reach the farmland. Besides a little break for lunch we’d work until 8 p.m. before walking home again. We’d then buy beans from the market and make tofu that we’d sell from our house. Our profit was less than 5,000 won [60 cents at the blackmarket rate] a day.”

Another defector adds, “It’s the women who can really make money in North Korea. My aunt was the main earner in the house. My uncle is in the military, so his position provided protection for my aunt’s business which was selling beans in the market. You also have to smooth the way with money.”

[Washington Post]

Defectors in Japan sue North Korea for millions over rights abuses

Five North Korean defectors in Japan filed a suit in Tokyo demanding Pyongyang pay ¥500 million [4.5 Million US Dollars] in damages over its alleged human rights abuses.

The suit was filed with Tokyo District Court and was the first legal action against the North Korean government by defectors, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The five claimed that North Korea asked Koreans living in Japan to return between 1959 and 1984 when the country advertised repeatedly through the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) that it was a “heaven on earth” where things such as clothing, food and shelter were secure.

The plaintiffs said they returned to North Korea between 1960 and 1972, but they were forced to live under harsh conditions including not being able to get food. They claim that North Korea committed an act of state-sponsored kidnapping by deceiving victims. They also said that their right to see their families in North Korea had been violated.

[Japan Times]

The long road for North Korean defectors

North Korean defectors living in China can spend 5-10 years there without legal status, with the goal of making their way to South Korea and becoming South Korean citizens.

After seeking asylum in South Korea, defectors spend two months undergoing investigation. A human rights lawyer is on site to ensure that their rights are not violated during this process, but they cannot freely contact the outside world. They then enter Hanawon, a three-month program that provides healthcare (physical and emotional), education (including courses on history, democracy and human rights), job training, and settlement support or life planning.

With their monthly allowance they can buy phone cards to call family or friends in China or elsewhere. (Some have spouses or children still in China.) They are taken on field trips and spend a night with a South Korean family. One surprise for the residents has been when U.S. service members come to the facility to put on talent shows. Seeing those they’ve been taught to view as mortal enemies singing ballads and making jokes is shocking and eye-opening.

Trainees, which is what defectors at Hanawon are called, also secure South Korean citizenship while at Hanawon; they receive help in finding an apartment and their security deposit is paid for by the government. After leaving Hanawon, individuals can receive employment subsidies, college tuition, and incentives for savings (if you save $500 a month, the government will match that) for an additional five years.

 [Excerpts of Des Moines Register article by Mary M. McCarthy, professor at Drake University]

North Korean defectors: You are the winner already

Defectors spend up to three months in Seoul learning the history of the Korean Peninsula, and basic life skills like how to use an ATM and shop for groceries. Many defectors are drastically behind in education, as North Korea emphasizes propaganda over skills like reading and math. Defectors can be unprepared for things Hanawon doesn’t teach, such as understanding South Korea’s ultra-competitive social structure.

“After making it to Mongolia, we flew to South Korea,” recalls North Korean defector Yeon Mi Park. “They put us into a place called Hanawon Resettlement.

“Everyone thinks that once you escape, once you arrive in the land of freedom, people think that’s the end of the story, everyone is fine and happy, but that’s not [the case].

“The suicide rate among North Korean defectors in South Korea is three times higher than South Koreans, and South Korea [already] is one of the most high-suicide-rate countries.

“I fought for my freedom. It was not given to me, but I fought for it. So, I want the North Korean defectors struggling in South Korea [to realize] that you should be very proud of yourself, and don’t listen to anyone say that you are not enough, that you are different, you are not going to win. You are the winner already.”

[Business Insider]

Jeon Geum-ju the florist

Jeon Geum-ju, 32, left Hoeryong in 2008, and made it to South Korea:

I got good grades in high school, so I thought I’d go to college. But I discovered that in North Korea only the children of high-level officials are sent to college. The state assigned me to a shoe factory that didn’t produce any shoes. I ended up just doing manual labor like digging and planting trees.

One day when I was 20, I met a Chinese girl who was traveling with her family and she told me about South Korea. It was a pivotal moment for me. I’d never even left my city, but I was inspired to leave.

I was 24 years old when I finally arrived in South Korea. I was so conflicted about going to college. I would have been 30 by the time I graduated, so I did an accounting qualification instead because I was good at math.

Meanwhile, my childhood dream was to be a florist. So I started working for free for a florist on Wednesday and Friday nights after work and on Saturdays from dawn. When I was working in the flower shop, I was so happy. I began looking into this seriously as a career.

For three years, I saved up my earnings from my accountancy job so I could study in Canada for three months. Then I went to the U.K. to do a six-month floristry course. I loved it so much. I got an internship with a very prestigious florist in London. I started with menial work like cleaning, but I was sometimes allowed to arrange the flowers myself. So I always made myself available early in the morning and late at night. Because of this, doors opened to me.

Jun Geum-joo poses holding a bunch of flowers she made

 

Now I work in Seoul as a floristry teacher, and I run an online store selling bouquets of flowers. My dream is to open my own flower shop. Usually, people just buy flowers and walk out, but I want my place to be a place where people can sit and chat face-to-face surrounded by flowers.

[Washington Post]

In rare move, North Korea releases detained South Korean

North Korea released a South Korean citizen on Tuesday who was detained in the North last month, a rare humanitarian gesture welcomed by the South Korean government. The 34-year-old man, who was identified only by his last name, Seo, was arrested in North Korea for illegal entry on July 22.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry released no further details, citing a pending investigation. The man will probably face criminal charges in South Korea because of a national law that bars citizens from visiting the North without government permission.

Tuesday’s repatriation came as the North is mounting pressure on South Korea to return those citizens it says are being held in the South against their will. Two North Koreans, Kim Ryen-hi and Kwon Chol-nam, are campaigning for their repatriation to the North, saying that their decisions to defect were mistakes.

North Korea is also demanding the return of 12 waitresses who arrived in South Korea in 2016 in a group defection.

[New York Times]

1 in 10 North Koreans are forced into modern day slavery

One in every 10 people living in North Korea are forced into forms of slavery, used to prop up the repressive regime and keep the country’s population under tight control, according to a new report, The 2018 Global Slavery Index, compiled by the Walk Free Foundation.

According to the report, more than 2.6 million out of North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants are subjected to modern slavery, the highest proportion of a single country’s population worldwide. Most were forced to work with no guarantee of compensation.

The Walk Free Foundation is an Australia-based organization dedicated to monitoring and ending various forms of slavery worldwide and spurring global action to that effect. It was founded by the billionaire Australian mining mogul Andrew Forrest.

The regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un uses several different methods to impose slavery on its people. From interviews with 50 North Korean defectors, all described work in North Korea as centrally organized by the ruling party, and many indicated they had either not been paid, or their pay was subjected to state-held deductions. Read more

More on North Koreans forced into modern day slavery

North Korean interviewees reported that children and adults were forced to work unpaid through “communal labor” in agriculture or construction. Adults were sometimes forced to work 70 to 100 days in a row and faced punishment or decreased food rations if they disobeyed orders.

Defectors also described labor training camps — essentially state-run prisons — where citizens who were unemployed for more than 15 days were sent to perform hard labor, usually for a minimum of six months.

Even absence from work is not permitted and could result in harsh punishment. “If you are absent without an excuse, you are detained in a labor training camp,” a male defector said, according to the report.

Two defectors spoke of “shock brigades” also known as “storm troopers” — groups of typically very poor men and women who were forced to perform heavy labor, often in construction, for years at a time.

One female defector said her monthly work salary was used to fund forced labor. “I did not receive compensation,” she said. “From my workplace, they were taking money to support shock brigades and as a result of deducting such an amount from our salaries we did not receive any money.”

[Business Insider]