Tag Archive: refugees

After fleeing North Korea

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The academic work of Professor Clifton Emery, a lecturer at Seoul’s Yonsei University, focuses on the power that social groups and communities wield over the specter of child abuse, and as part of a wider study he is currently interviewing 200 North Korean defectors to examine the risks they face in terms of post-traumatic stress disorder and family violence.

This work has put him in contact with the underground railroad, a network of smugglers and NGOs working to bring North Koreans to safety via a shadowy route that snakes from China to Southeast Asia and finally to Seoul. Many of these refugees are women, who willingly sell themselves as brides to rural Chinese men and then wait, often bearing several children to their husbands, until the opportunity for escape presents itself.

It has also brought Emery close to the aid workers – a handful of Israelis among them – who help the process along. One of his closest Jewish friends these days is Yotam Polizer, the Israeli serving as Asia Director for the NGO IsraAid, which offers trauma care training and workshops. IsraAid has offered training to the counselors and therapists who serve as refugees’ first contacts when they make it to South Korea and to the government-run Hanowan Resettlement Center that sits in the hills south of Seoul. There, the refugees learn the bare bones of democracy, free speech, and capitalism. They are taught that they can say whatever they wish about their government and practice any religion they choose. It’s a paradigm shift of massive proportions.

This evening two dozen aid workers and psychology students gather together in a lecture hall to discuss the intricacies of trauma and how they can identify, salve and treat the emotional wounds of shell-shocked North Korean defectors. Much of that work focuses on nonverbal treatment, be it through art, music, or movement, allowing survivors of the North Korean regime to express themselves without the burden of a written record.

Such a cross-section of humanitarians, Emery says, is typical. “The people doing the work and defectors themselves are all over the map politically,” he says. “You have fundamentalist Christians and you have very secular professional Western organizations and you have IsraAid. What we share in common is a sense of the absolute urgency of this crisis.”

It’s really a question, Emery says, of how much we believe in the term “never again.” He says, “I grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust and hoping that if I had been alive at that time I would have had the moral fortitude to do something. I simply cannot look myself in the mirror and not do something. It’s just a very simple response of the heart.”

[Times of Israel]

Escaping North Korea via the Underground Railroad

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More than 150 years ago, in antebellum America, the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses, allowed slaves to escape to freedom. Today a similar network has been created by humanitarian groups and Christian missionaries, as well as by unscrupulous smugglers and brokers, to help North Koreans escape their modern-day slave state—a place where freedom of speech, religion and movement are all forbidden and where some 200,000 inmates are held in Stalinist gulags.

The escapees include North Korean women who have been sold to brothels as prostitutes or to Chinese farmers as brides against their will; defectors carrying state secrets; and ordinary men, women and children fleeing in search of food and a better life.

To trace the harrowing journey that refugees must undergo: first making their way across the border with China (which means traversing a major river and getting past numerous checkpoints and guards) and then making a long and risky trek across China to reach another country, usually in Southeast Asia, from which, if they are lucky, they find safe haven in South Korea or the West. The unlucky refugees, caught by the Chinese, are forcibly sent back.

The stories are just as moving for the Korean women who have been sold into prostitution or forced marriages in China. Their “half-and-half children” by Chinese men are unable to attend school or obtain medical care and may be “ripped from their mothers’ arms by Chinese policemen” and then abandoned if their Korean mothers are arrested and repatriated to North Korea. Pregnant women repatriated to the North suffer a special hell: “For the perceived crime of carrying ‘Chinese seed,’ their North Korean jailers force the repatriated women to undergo abortions, even in the final weeks of pregnancy.”

In all, some 24,000 North Koreans have thus far managed to flee to safety, and tens of thousands more are currently hiding in enclaves in northeastern China, under threat of repatriation by the Chinese regime. This new underground railroad is “a rare good-news story that foretells a happier future for that sad country.”

–From Sue Mi Terry’s book review of Melanie Kirkpatrick’s “Escape From North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad” 

Read more on the Underground Railroad

North Korean refugee operation endangered by US reporters

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Public outcry continues over journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee (both from California) who spent nearly six months confined in North Korea, resulting in the American government sending Bill Clinton to a country with which the U.S. has no formal relations to negotiate their release.

But the video footage that was confiscated during their arrest put the journalists’ subjects in danger far worse than their own.

Ling and Lee were reporting for the American cable news network Current TV on the human trafficking of North Korean women into China, where they serve as sex workers and are purchased as wives. As part of the story the journalists videotaped and interviewed pastors, volunteers, and residents of five secret shelters for the children of North Korean women trafficked into China.

When Ling and Lee’s footage was confiscated by the North Korean government, the women ended up exposing the identities of the children and pastors living at the Durihana Mission, as well as the people who helped North Korean refugees cross into China and brought them to the Mission.

The Chinese government shut down all of Durihana Mission’s shelters and deported some of the pastors, many of whom were South Korean or North Korean defectors. The pastors are saying Ling and Lee reported recklessly and weren’t careful enough with the sensitive information and footage they gathered.

News outlets and blogs say they have found evidence that the women intentionally crossed the border (after they were continually warned not to go near it), violating international law and putting the subjects of their footage in danger. Other people are upset because they say the women need to use their public statements as a way to bring more attention to the North Korean refugees. Thus far the women have only spoken out about journalists held captive in other parts of the world.

The Women’s Media Center reports that 80 to 90 percent of female North Korean refugees living in China are trafficking victims. North Korea treats refugees— whether they emigrated voluntarily or were trafficked—as criminal defectors. China treats them as illegal immigrants, and deports thousands per year. While a refugee is an emigrant who has fled their country for safety reasons, a trafficked person has been sold and forced to work for others in a new country. These people are vulnerable, and often refugees or immigrants pursuing what seem like work opportunities only to have their identification and rights taken away.