Category: North Korean refugee

North Korean hacker group carries out attack under guise of North Korean defector information

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Researchers from South Korean-based ESTsecurity Security Response Center (ESRC) identified the latest APT37 campaign carried out by the state-sponsored North Korean group named ‘Geumseong121’ in early March 2020. The North Korean hackers have been running a spear-phishing email operation targeting North Korean refugees.

‘Geumseong121’, also known as APT37, has been conducting state-sponsored espionage activities in South Korean cyberspace for years, mainly targeting those who are engaged in unification, foreign affairs, or national security, the leaders of the organizations specializing in North Korean issues, along with North Korean refugees.

A report titled “The stealthy mobile APT attack carried out by Geumseong121 APT hacking group” published in November last year, reveals that the group has attempted to perform cyber-attacks targeting a wide range of devices including computers and mobile devices.

Their latest campaign, Operation Spy Cloud, entices its victims to click links that appear to be about North Korean refugees. Instead the links download malicious files, in an attempt to take over computers and gather information from the owners of the hacked computers.

[ESRC]

China warns citizens to keep away from its North Korean border

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Chinese authorities have told people to stay away from the border with North Korea, which has banned people from China to keep out the coronavirus, or risk being shot by North Korean guards, residents of the area said.

Residents said the warning came in a printed notice that Chinese authorities in the area issued this week, the latest indication of how seriously North Korea takes the threat of the virus.

Residents of the Chinese cities of Jian and Baishan were warned that people who get too close to the border might be shot, according to three people who received the notice, which was reviewed by Reuters. Residents are prohibited from fishing, grazing livestock or throwing rubbish near the river, according to the notice issued this week.

In January, North Korea told travel agencies that it was closing its borders to travelers from China, cutting off one of its few sources of external revenue. It is unclear how much trade continues, but sources who work near the border have said much of the official and unofficial trade was affected. China and North Korea share a 1,400-km (880-mile) frontier.

Activists who work with North Korean refugees trying to leave through China said the border lockdown has made an already dangerous journey nearly impossible.

Isolated and impoverished North Korea has imposed strict entry bans during past global epidemics, including a 2014 Ebola outbreak.

[Reuters]

One in five North Korean defectors experience discrimination in the South

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About one out of five North Korean defectors experienced discrimination in South Korea last year mostly due to “cultural” differences, a survey showed Wednesday.

According to the survey conducted by the Hana Foundation, a state-run agency that helps resettlement of North Korean defectors, 17.2 percent of 3,000 defectors polled said that they experienced discrimination last year.

The ratio was slightly down from 20.2 percent reported a year earlier but indicated a still deep-rooted prejudice against those defecting from communist North Korea.

Of them, 76.7 percent said that they were discriminated against because of “cultural” differences such as their way of speaking, manners and lifestyles. It was higher than the corresponding figure of 69.9 percent a year earlier. While South and North Koreans use the same language, their intonation and the meaning of words along with their lifestyles are quite different.

About 44 percent also cited negative perception against North Koreans as a reason for discrimination, followed by 22.9 percent who cited their lack of skills and poor job performance as discrimination.

The survey, however, showed that 74.2 percent said that they are satisfied with their lives in South Korea as they can enjoy liberty and make money as much as they work.

[Yonhap]

Crash Landing on You: The defector who brought North-South Korean romance to life

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An implausible love story in which a (literally) high-flying South Korean heiress accidentally paraglides into North Korea, lands on a soldier and falls in love with him has become the latest Korean drama smash hit, “Crash Landing on You”.

With his broad shoulders and thick torso, Kwak Moon-wan has all the appearance of a bodyguard. That’s probably because until 2004, he served with the Supreme Guard Command, the elite security force which protects North Korea’s ruling Kim family.  He was so trusted that he was assigned to work overseas too, for a North Korean trade company in Moscow which was bringing in much needed foreign currency. Only a select few North Koreans are permitted to work outside the country, and to ensure their continued loyalty the leaders have measures in place – Kwak had to leave his wife and son behind in North Korea. In 2004, he was ordered to return to Pyongyang. During a stopover in Beijing, he found out one of his friends in Moscow had reported to their bosses in Pyongyang what he had said in private conversation. He knew immediately that what he’d said would cause huge trouble when he got home.

So he decided to defect. Alone. And he has lived in South Korea without his family ever since. After arriving in South Korea, Kwak, like thousands of North Korean defectors, began the process of building a new life. And it took a remarkable twist of fate for Kwak to find his way into the booming world of Korean entertainment.

Before entering the military, Kwak had spent time learning about film. He ended up being accepted to study film directing in Pyongyang University of Dramatic and Cinematic Arts. Shortly after Kwak arrived in South Korea, a famous filmmaker who was working on a North Korea-themed film project approached South Korea’s spy agency asking for some advice. Kwak had just finished his interrogations, part of the resettlement process new defectors go through, in which he’d talked about his film skills. The agency put him in touch with the filmmaker, who offered him a job at his film company. Kwak accepted it right away. He went on to work as an adviser and a screenwriter on a number of films and dramas.

In 2018 a former colleague introduced Kwak to Park Ji-eun, the head writer of the drama. She had come up with an idea of a romantic comedy featuring a North Korean officer and a South Korean heiress, but her lack of intimate knowledge of Northern life was a pressing concern. Kwak’s intimate knowledge of how North Korean officials operate meant he was able to contribute ingenious plot devices. Read more on this

The series has since become one of the most successful Korean dramas of all time. It tells the story of heiress and businesswoman Yoon Se-ri and North Korean army captain Ri Jeong-hyuk. While out paragliding one day, Se-ri gets caught up by freak winds, and pushed over the border into North Korea. She is found by the dashing Jeong-hyuk, who instead of turning her in agrees to keep her safe and help her return home. Inevitably, they fall in love.

It’s also won praise from people like Sokeel Park, who works with defectors through Liberty in North Korea. “Its portrayal of various aspects of North Korean society have clearly been thoroughly researched, resulting in the most three-dimensional portrayal of North Korean society of any film or drama to date,” he told the BBC. “It is refreshing how it portrays various aspects of North Korean society without unnecessarily passing judgement, and shows North Koreans as complex people who are ultimately relatable and even lovable, even if they are culturally different.”

[BBC]

North Korean refugees seek political voice in the South with new political party

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A group of North Korean refugees have launched a political party in South Korea, aiming to give a voice to the 33,500 defectors living in the South.

We were always considered minorities and aliens,” said Kim Joo-il, secretary-general of the new South-North Unification Party at its launch at a hall in South Korea’s capital Seoul. “North Korean defectors are now the future of unification.”

The decision to set up a formal political party was a sign that defectors are seeking a more direct political role ahead of a parliamentary election in April. Many are strongly critical of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s administration, which they accuse of sidelining defectors and ignoring human rights in a bid to repair relations with North Korea.

Attendees at the launch event discussed cases that have become rallying cries for defectors, who say the South Korean government provides them too little support. In prominent cases last year, two North Koreans were repatriated, and a defector and her 6-year-old son who had been denied government benefits were found dead of starvation in their Seoul apartment.

Kim Shin-ye, 38, one of the defector participants, said the new party’s criticism of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – one party representative called him a “little pig” during the event – means some defectors may be worried about publicly pledging support for fear of endangering family back in the North.

“What Kim Jong Un is the most afraid of is when the dignity of the North Korean defectors is raised,” said lawmaker Kim Yong-tae, during his congratulatory speech.

[Times of India]

The risks of being a North Korean Christian

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“Bon-Hwa,” a North Korean Christian woman, escaped to China two years ago for the chance to live a better life.

With the help of partners of Open Doors, Bon-Hwa found shelter in a safe house and attended her first Women to Women secret meeting in China and was baptized.

But baptizing North Koreans is illegal and dangerous, so Bon-Hwa, her pastor, and a group leader traveled to a remote location that “took many hours to reach.”

“I had to contain myself and focus on the steps of the ceremony,” said the Open Doors leader. “Or else, I would have cried … It was such a beautiful moment and such a privilege to baptize a North Korean believer in these circumstances.”

Most of North Korea’s underground Christians do not engage in the extremely dangerous work of proselytizing. Instead, they largely keep their beliefs to themselves or within their immediate families. But even those who stay deep underground face danger.

North Korea has previously arrested South Korean and American missionaries for allegedly attempting to build underground church networks or overthrow its government. 

[CBN]

Inside London’s community of North Korean defectors

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In the southwest London suburb of New Malden, it’s common to see Korean signage across the high street’s low-rise row of shopfronts, where about a third of its total population is Korean.

It’s also home to most of the UK’s North Korean defectors, which, at over 600 people, is the largest North Korean community in Europe. Arriving as refugees, they have escaped a country that the UN has repeatedly condemned for its corruption, human rights abuses and “appalling” levels of hunger. 

New Malden’s North Korean community is fairly recent; in 2007, there were only 20 defectors living in the area. Drawn by the Korean amenities already established by their southern neighbors, North Koreans have built a new life away from Kim Jong-un’s oppressive regime while still honouring the cultural traditions they left behind. It’s this delicate balance of renewal and remembrance that photographer Catherine Hyland sought out when she began working with New Malden’s North Koreans around three years ago. She began attending church services and K-pop competitions, spending over a year getting to know the community before she took a single photograph. 

Hyland was aware that these subjects deserved an especially sensitive approach. “Even after you defect, the psychological and cultural adjustment can be hard due to the extreme conditions people are used to,” she says. 

Named The Traces Left Behind, her multi-part series allows her subjects to express themselves through their own visual and cultural language. “The disparity between the media [portrayal of the community] and reality is vast,” Hyland points out. “We hope the project could be a platform for this community to share their stories on their own terms.”

She has recently finished the project’s first chapter, a short film and photo series in collaboration with the Korean Senior Citizen Society’s dance group and choir. Rather than a straightforward documentary-style observation, Hyland created a set inspired by the bright, pastel aesthetic specific to North Korea, inviting the group to dance, sing and share their story with her.

Despite the color and joy evident in her work, Hyland’s interviews touch on some painful moments. Lee-Sook Sung, a 77-year-old who participates in the dance troupe, was an early settler in the UK, having arrived in 2009. She told Hyland that three of her sons starved to death in North Korea before she escaped to China with her husband and three remaining children. 

Having lost her eyesight and become unable to read, she learns the choir songs with the help of her husband. Despite these hardships, she says the community helps her remain young, as does the healthcare and quality of life she has found in New Malden. “If I had still been in North Korea, by this age I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” she says. “But I have come to such a joyful and wonderful world that I am dancing at this age.”

[The Independent]

North Korea’s most senior defector to run for parliament in the South

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The most senior diplomat to have defected from North Korea will run for parliament in South Korea. Thae Yong-ho was deputy ambassador at the North Korean embassy in London when he defected with his wife and two sons in August 2016, and has since become one of the regime’s most vocal critics.

Thae, who was denounced as a traitor by North Korea, will run in the national assembly elections on 15 April for Liberty Korea, the country’s conservative main opposition party, officials said. Party officials said Thae was likely to campaign for a seat in a Seoul constituency.

“Thae is someone who risked his life for freedom,” Kim Hyong-o, a party official in charge of candidacies, told reporters. “As a person who understands the sorrow of the 10 million separated families, and as one of 25 million North Koreans, he could present a vision for peace. “His courage and decision will give hope to North Korean refugees and other South and North Korean people who want genuine unification.”

If elected, Thae, 57, would become the second North Korean defector to win a seat in the national assembly. The first was Cho Myung-chul, who fled to the South in 1994 and represented a predecessor to Liberty Korea from 2012-16.

[The Guardian]

North Korean refugee arrives in U.S.

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A North Korean male in his 50s or older arrived in the United States as a refugee this week, U.S. government data showed Friday.

He is the second North Korean refugee to resettle in the U.S. this year. In January, a male aged in the 14-20 range was placed in Richmond, Virginia, according to data from the State Department’s bureau of population, refugees and migration.

The new arrival was reported Thursday as a male aged in the 51-64 range. He now lives in Chicago, Illinois.

No North Korean refugees were admitted in 2018.

-The first North Korean refugees arrived in 2006, with their number peaking at 38 in 2008.
-From 2009 to 2016, the number of arrivals ranged between 14 and 23.
-In 2017, the figure dropped sharply to one, before increasing slightly to six in 2018.

[Yonhap]

Fifteen repatriated North Korean refugees quarantined for coronavirus with tuberculosis patients

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Authorities in North Korea have quarantined a group of 15 refugees that were captured in China and repatriated with the help of Chinese police, placing them in a facility meant to isolate patients with open cases of tuberculosis, Radio Free Asia has learned.

“Yesterday an acquaintance of mine who works in the medical industry told me that some North Korean refugees who were sent back from China last month were put in isolation at a tuberculosis hospital,” a resident of North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

The source said the 15 repatriated North Koreans, originally part of a group of about 20, had crossed the border into China from somewhere in North Hamgyong’s Musan county in early January. According to the source the 15 were not taken first to a detention center in China, but “were sent back to North Korea in strict secrecy.”

“Sopungsan tuberculosis hospital is famous because patients are sent there when they have the most dangerous types of open-case tuberculosis [including the drug-resistant Super-TB],” said the source. “It’s like the authorities don’t even care if these people become infected with tuberculosis,” the source said.

A second source added, “Seopungsan tuberculosis hospital is where terminal TB patients go to die. They are put there to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious tuberculosis bacteria.”

[Radio Free Asia]