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Oct 8 '15 - How a 19-Year-Old North Korean Escaped and Became a Sushi Chef in America

By Keegan Hamilton

Daniel had been planning his escape for weeks. The 10-minute walk from his family’s home to the frozen river that formed the border with China would be simple. Then he would sneak across the ice, which he thought would be solid enough to support his weight — though he couldn’t be sure. If he pulled it off, he would make it out of North Korea.

That day, the 19 year old woke up early and slipped silently out the door without saying so much as goodbye to anyone, knowing his family would try to stop him if he told them what he was about to do. It was two days before his little brother’s 11th birthday.

Daniel, slender and about 5 feet 5 inches tall, was not a strong swimmer. Plunging into the frigid water might be a deadlier proposition than being caught by the soldiers who patrolled the area in their olive green uniforms and Russian-style ushanka hats, searching for defectors and smugglers. Those they caught were forced to pay bribes — or sent to prison camps.

The April ice held firm, however, and he hurried across, scrambling up the opposite bank and into China. His plan was to find a job that beat scrounging scrap metal or toiling in the fields, the sum of his work experience in North Korea.

“People were starving to death,” Daniel says now of his youth in North Korea. “Even when I went to school, I was working so hard in the fields I’d just sleep in class. I’d go to the fields at six, work for two hours, wash my face and go to school. I just felt like I had no future there.”

It’s impossible to verify the details of Daniel’s 2010 escape. What is certain, however, is that after making his way many of thousands of miles, illegally crossing at least one more border, applying for asylum, and battling government red tape, he successfully found a new job — as a sushi chef in the San Francisco Bay Area.

* * *

Daniel, a pseudonym he chose to protect the family he left in North Korea, tells VICE News his story while seated at the dining room table in his one-bedroom Bay Area apartment. His place is modest; a black couch is the only piece of furniture other than the table, which is neatly arranged with clean wine glasses, a white tea set with a strawberry vine pattern, a vase of faux flowers, and woven placemats that say “Bless Our Home.”

Daniel is one of 186 refugees who have settled in cities across the US since the passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which established a path for people fleeing the country to gain asylum in America. The group comprises a tiny percentage of defectors worldwide. The vast majority — more than 28,000 to date — have gone to South Korea, which has a special government program to help citizens from the northern half of the divided Korean peninsula adjust to new lives.

All defectors take tremendous risks. In addition to the North Korean border patrols, defectors are often arrested and repatriated by authorities in China, which supports North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un’s regime. People who get sent back face years of hard labor, abuse, and often death in brutal camps. But beyond the shared threat of bodily harm, the handful of North Koreans who opt for America over South Korea face an additional layer of cultural, psychological, and emotional challenges.

North Koreans are scattered throughout the US in more than three dozen cities, from Los Angeles and Chicago to smaller towns in Idaho, Virginia, and Kentucky. Going from the isolated Hermit Kingdom to the land of fast food, consumer culture, and individual freedom is about as close to falling into an alternate universe as reality allows. And while those brave and lucky enough to reach America enjoy safety and freedom, life in the land of opportunity is daunting. Many defectors are essentially left to fend for themselves.

With styled hair and neatly trimmed sideburns, Daniel could easily be mistaken for a Korean-American man who has lived in the country all his life. He seems healthy and lives comfortably. He owns a car, which would be an extravagant luxury back home. Yet he can’t help but wax nostalgic about his old life. He lives alone, and it’s been more than five years since he spoke to his family.

“I miss everything,” he says in Korean. “The smell of the ground. The dirt. Everything. I didn’t really see how precious it was to be able to live with my family. I don’t have that now.”

After scrambling across the Yalu river during his escape, Daniel says he began trekking deeper into the mountains toward a Chinese town about an hour away. He had been to China once before as a teenager, when he crossed over with a family friend he called Uncle.

Though leaving the country without permission is strictly forbidden, some North Koreans in the border region cross over to cities in northeast China, where there is a large ethnic Korean population, to earn money or bring back goods to sell. Uncle showed up one day in bad shape after being released from prison, where he had spent time after he was caught attempting to cross the border.

“We fed him and shared our food with him,” Daniel recalls. “Getting a meal from somebody else, it wasn’t an easy thing back then, but because my father knew him, we treated him well.”

After about two months, Uncle was healthy enough to head back to China. Daniel talked it over with his family and decided to go along. They had been relatively prosperous for a number of years, tending fields of barley, corn, and potatoes, but his father developed rheumatism and lost the use of his left leg, limiting his ability to work. The family needed the extra cash their son could potentially earn over the border.

Things did not go according to plan. Daniel was just 15 — too young to find work — and he ended up, as he puts it, “going from place to place” for nearly three years before returning home, sneaking past the border guards again to reunite with his family.

But life in China had opened his eyes to the brainwashing he had undergone growing up in North Korea. In 2009, Kim Jong-il, the father of current leader Kim Jong-un, was still alive, and the country’s economy was in shambles. The famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the late ’90s was over, but food security was still a problem. North Koreans are taught to worship the Kim family, but Daniel had lost faith.

“When I was 12 or 13, I completely believed the Dear Leader didn’t go to the bathroom, that it was like a divine thing, that he was on a completely different level than us,” he says.

Shortly after he returned, Daniel’s parents decided to move to the city on the Chinese border — Daniel declines to name it to protect his family — to be near his maternal grandmother. His discontent with the North Korean regime grew as he continued to witness hunger and deprivation all around.

“I had tasted freedom, and my perspective got a lot bigger,” he says. “Combined together it was political stuff, the brainwashing and indoctrination in North Korea. The things about the leader saying that we have a good life, but there are people starving and homeless people. I thought, That’s not true.”

He began planning his second escape, keeping it a secret from his family.”That’s the only thing that breaks my heart,” he says, expressing regret over his decision not to say farewell. “If I would have told my parents I was going to leave, they’d say ‘Sometimes you have money, sometimes you don’t, that’s just how life is, you just have to survive. That’s what’s important — your life is important.'”

* * *

Daniel had spent time during his first trip to China at an underground Christian church, and so after his second escape, he planned to find another church that would take him in. It started to snow. He got lost and ended up wandering down a muddy road.

“It was, like, six o’clock in the morning — I was scared,” he recalls. “I stopped in front of a house. There was a dove holding a branch with its beak, and a cross too, I saw that in front of the house. I recognized it from before. It was a church. When I look back, it was kind of a divine intervention.”

He knocked, but nobody answered. After wandering for another half an hour, he circled back to the church and found a woman standing outside calling to him in Chinese. He approached hesitantly and she switched to Korean. She could tell he was a defector due to his clothes and appearance.

“I was kind of scared, so I was avoiding her, but there was nowhere for me to go,” he recalls. “It was very cold. My body was weak and I was exhausted. She told me to rest, so I just kind of let go of everything and I slept.”

Daniel had previously stayed with an elderly Chinese woman whom he came to call “Grandmother.” Her phone number still worked, and she was delighted to hear from him. She picked him up and they traveled by bus to another city in the region. She introduced Daniel to a Christian missionary, who he says was knowledgeable about helping refugees escape to South Korea and the United States.

“Some missionaries will just give you some money and tell you to go back to North Korea and spread the gospel, but that missionary didn’t do that,” Daniel says. “He asked me if I wanted to go to America or South Korea. I said, ‘America.’ I didn’t really know anything about it at the time.”

The US fought against the North during the Korean war, and North Koreans are still bombarded with propaganda that portrays Americans as almost cartoonishly evil. Daniel says the forbidden-fruit aspect was part of the appeal. He knew from his past visit to China that the US was prosperous — the opposite of what his own government had told him.

“Anything related to America has a very bad connotation, but I was very curious,” Daniel says. “I knew America was a rich country, I thought maybe I should go and experience it. North Koreans are taught not to like America, but that’s kind of why I wanted to go.”

The missionary connected Daniel with a representative of Liberty in North Korea (LINK), a Los Angeles-based NGO that works with North Korean refugees. Since it was founded in 2004, LINK has shepherded more than 400 North Koreans through China and Southeast Asia to South Korea and the United States, where defectors can claim political asylum.

Sokeel Park, LINK’s director of research and strategy, makes it clear in a phone interview from his office in Seoul that his organization does not do “extractions” — meaning they don’t arrange for people inside North Korea to make it out. Instead, LINK works with refugees like Daniel who have already fled, or gets “referrals” from defectors who have kept in contact with relatives via smuggled cellphones or other means and know an escape is coming.

With China and North Korea both seeking to arrest defectors — and potentially the people who aid in their escapes — Park says “operational security” is crucial, so the first step upon meeting refugees is vetting. After LINK feels comfortable the defector is not an agent of the North Korean regime, the organization makes arrangements to smuggle the person from China’s northeastern frontier to a third country, typically in Southeast Asia, where refugees are able to make contact with the US State Department.

“It can happen very quickly,” Park says. “They can go through the rescue route… in a matter of days.”

In years past, defectors could simply enter a US embassy or consulate in China and be guaranteed protection. Getting out of the diplomatic outpost and moving on to the next destination required approval from the Chinese government, however, and Beijing began forcing refugees to wait months or years before allowing them to continue on their way. China also cracked down by beefing up security outside the compounds to make it more difficult to get inside.

“It was obviously politically inconvenient and embarrassing for the Beijing government to have to deal with that,” Park said. “They just made a decision to shut it down and were successful with that.”

Others have gone west to Mongolia through China’s Gobi Desert, but the terrain is so treacherous that most refugees attempt to head south instead. Daniel says LINK arranged for him to take trains and buses through China — a journey of some 3,000 miles — to a country in Southeast Asia that he does not name in order to protect LINK’s staff and other defectors still using the same route.

In some instances, North Koreans have been detained and sent back home even after leaving China. In 2013, authorities in Laos repatriated nine young defectors, reportedly telling them they were boarding a plane to South Korea that was actually headed back to China en route to Pyongyang. Earlier this year, Thai police arrested an American Christian missionary and charged the man with human trafficking after he helped seven North Koreans enter the country.

But according to Park, such cases are rare. “In general, once you make it out of China into Southeast Asia, you’re a lot more confident you’re going to make it to your final destination, whether that’s South Korea or the US,” he said.

Daniel knew that the Chinese authorities were on the lookout for defectors like him, but LINK had made arrangements. This meant Daniel was basically just along for the ride, hoping and praying that they would make it through undetected. LINK has a history of success when helping defectors escape — Park says their success rate is over 95 percent — but there are no guarantees.

“I knew there was a risk,” Daniel says with a shrug. “I got lucky.”

* * *

After successfully navigating China, refugees like Daniel begin an entirely new journey. In the best-case scenario, the months-long wait to enter the US is spent in relative comfort. For some, however, it means sitting in an immigration detention center, stuck in diplomatic and bureaucratic limbo for more than a year.

When President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act into law in 2004, he cleared the way for North Koreans to claim political asylum in the US, but the measure didn’t add any special provisions to expedite their applications or create a system to address their highly unusual circumstances and needs. In the eyes of the US government, North Koreans simply became eligible to become refugees like people from Syria, Iraq, or Eritrea.

“There is no special program for North Koreans,” a spokesman for the State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs told VICE News in a statement. “North Korean refugees access the USRAP (US Refugee Admissions Program) and are considered for US resettlement along with refugees of some 70 other nationalities worldwide.”

In practice, this means that North Koreans end up doing a lot of waiting around, sometimes behind bars in detention centers. Even in better circumstances, they usually aren’t allowed to leave the home, diplomatic compound, or refugee processing center where they are being housed.

Earlier this year, the George W. Bush Institute, the former president’s nonprofit policy center, released a report on the lives of North Korean refugees in the US. The survey, which coincided with a campaign to raise global awareness about human rights abuses in North Korea, included in-depth interviews with 16 defectors whose backgrounds “reflected a range of living standards in North Korea varying from relatively comfortable to the verge of starvation.”

While almost all the defectors were pleased with their decision to come to the US, they also spoke candidly about frustrating months spent in purgatory with no updates on the status of their applications.

“They took me to the cell, when I was first taken there I was so shocked,” said one 44-year-old man who fled North Korea in 2001 and arrived in the US in 2010. “I was surprised because I didn’t know why I had to stay in a place like that when I did nothing wrong. I was really scared and worried that they would do something to me or send me away.”

The report said many people encountered would-be US émigrés in China and Southeast Asia who “eventually found the waiting period too long and withdrew their applications for asylum in the United States and went, instead, to South Korea.” In one remarkable case, the report described a North Korean who was “warned in advance on his way to Thailand that the wait for admission to the United States could be months or more, [so] he took an unusual and much more arduous journey from Thailand on his own through South America and Mexico.”

Asked about the report and any efforts to improve the lot of North Koreans stuck waiting in Southeast Asia for passage to the US, the State Department issued a carefully worded statement that effectively said they could do nothing to improve matters.

“We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories,” the statement said, citing international protocols that govern the handling of refugees. “On many occasions we have expressed our views to other government officials.”

Fortunately for Daniel, his case proceeded faster than usual. He spent five months waiting in a location his Korean translator from LINK declines to divulge, citing security reasons. He read, watched TV, and tried to study English while preparing himself for what would be a first for him.

“In North Korea, it’s impossible to get on a plane,” he says, still sounding awestruck at the thought of the experience.

After a brief layover in South Korea, Daniel’s flight touched down in Los Angeles. He was with a handful of other refugees, including two women who would become his roommates in the Bay Area. He called them his “sisters,” and they received small stipends from a civil society group contracted by the US Office of Refugee Settlement. LINK provided additional support, and they all quickly found jobs.

“One thing I regret is not studying English first and getting a job right away,” he says. “But I had no choice other than to get a job.”

Daniel found work in the most American of places: a shopping mall, where he worked in a restaurant bakery from 6am until noon, then served as a busboy at another food court eatery from 12:30pm to 5pm. He managed to eke out a living, but he longed for more. He eventually got laid off from the bakery and quit his other job. He says he then spent a month depressed in bed.

“I wanted to make a lot of money,” he says. “I wanted to buy stuff other people had. I was very ambitious. I was greedy.”

* * *

Joseph Kim can sympathize with Daniel’s struggle to adjust. The 25-year-old was among the first group of North Korean refugees to arrive in the United States in 2006, and he was placed with a foster family in Richmond, Virginia, where he enrolled in a local high school.

“They had no idea about North Korea,” he recalls. “It was a really poor community and neighborhood. Teachers didn’t really care whether we did homework or not. The students made me say the F-word, of course I didn’t know what that means. I’m like ‘Okay,’ and I say it and they start laughing.”

Kim’s background is bleak even by North Korean standards. His father died during the famine, and his mother sent his younger sister to China, he suspects to be sold as a bride or servant. He ended up homeless, one of the young children known in North Korea as Kotjebi, or wandering swallows, who roam train stations and public marketplaces in rags begging for food. He became a pickpocket and thief and spent time in a detention center before nearly starving to death on the streets.

Hunger is no longer a concern — he recounts this story at a restaurant in Midtown Manhattan’s Koreatown neighborhood over a massive lunch of Korean barbecue, kimchi, and banchan side dishes. He looks older than his years; like Daniel, he is short and wiry with a carefully coiffed tangle of black hair.

Kim fled to China at 15 in search of his sister, and was eventually taken in by an elderly Chinese woman who, he says, treated him like her own grandson. Their underground Christian church connected him with LINK, who offered to take him to America. At first he didn’t want to go; his pastor had to convince him by explaining the concept of freedom.

“I knew what freedom meant, the word in the dictionary, but it didn’t catch my attention until he elaborated what that means,” Kim says, recalling a time when he was seldom allowed outside for fear of being snatched up by Chinese authorities. “It means you can go outside any time you want to go. That was really eye-opening. All I wanted to do was go outside and explore. That’s what really changed my mind.”

Kim wrote a memoir, Under the Same Sky, about his escape and ongoing efforts to reconnect with his sister, and in it he describes how his US foster family kept a lock on their pantry because they had a tight budget for food. After being on the brink of starvation in North Korea, he found himself going hungry in the United States. He was eventually relocated to a new household, and says he holds no ill will against the people who first took him in.

“I don’t want to criticize them,” he says. “I never shared my hunger, or I never asked for more food, mainly because I didn’t know I had the right to ask.”

While groups such as LINK offer additional support and resources for a limited number of North Korean refugees, the majority receive limited assistance. Defectors interviewed by the Bush Institute all reported “sincere gratitude” for the opportunity they had been granted, but they also “expressed frustration over the fact they were ill-prepared to handle this on their own.”

North Korean defectors have a high prevalence of anxiety disorders and PTSD, and a survey of 140 female defectors in South Korea found that more than a quarter had been victims of sexual abuse or assault while in North Korea or during their escape; 45 said they had considered or attempted suicide. Some experience lingering health effects from malnutrition, and the Bush Institute report cited instances of North Korean immigrants having difficulty obtaining proper medical care in the US.

“In North Korea, we have free healthcare,” a 44-year-old woman who left in 2006 and arrived in the US in 2008 said. “There aren’t too many drugs or services available, but we are treated for free. I got lucky and received surgery for free in North Korea. These health-related costs in the US are always beyond my comprehension.”

Since 1999, South Korea has had a special support center where North Korean defectors undergo three months of reorientation, learning how to accomplish basic tasks like shopping for groceries in a supermarket or withdrawing money from an ATM, a device that doesn’t exist in the North. They also undergo job skills training and take classes to unlearn the warped history lessons taught by the North, then receive government financial support for up to five years.

Kris Potter, the US resettlement manager for LINK and the translator during one interview with Daniel, described North Korean refugees as “resilient” and “very driven,” and said most find jobs in America soon after arriving. “They’re equipped to find ways to be self-sufficient,” Potter said. “Finding a job is not really an issue; going to mainstream society is the bigger challenge.”

Like other non-English speaking refugees, the language barrier is a significant hurdle for North Koreans, and some end up self-isolating within Korean-American communities. Younger refugees like Kim have the advantage of being able to enroll in school and receive English lessons and an American education, but that’s not typically the case for adults.

“The US government doesn’t really recognize high school education from North Korea, and not many people defect with a high school diploma in their hand anyway,” Potter said. “They have to start from the bottom.”

Kim is one of the success stories. He eventually transferred to a better high school in Virginia, became a top student, and moved to Brooklyn, where he enrolled in a community college. “I heard from someone if you can survive in New York City you can survive anywhere,” he says. “I was like, ‘Well, I want to go there.'”

He enrolled this fall at Bard College in upstate New York, where he plans to study political science. He says the US should educate more North Korean defectors about their options, while also offering improved education once they arrive by offering support to NGOs like LINK, which specialize in making the transition smooth.

“The US doesn’t have to actually create a program, but they can be generous to support organizations that already do support them,” Kim says. “I am convinced that they can do more.”

* * *

After several hours of conversation with Daniel, the topic turned to American perception of North Korea. He had never heard of the movie The Interview, a comedy that stars James Franco and Seth Rogan as American journalists who plan to kill Kim Jong-un. He watched a trailer on his iPhone for about 90 seconds before turning it off and shaking his head.

“Not funny,” he said in English.

Through a translator, he said he could see why some people would find humor in “the Leader” as he called the third-generation Kim. But for him, it wasn’t a joke.

Outlandish tales emerge from North Korea so regularly — like the one about Kim executing an “incompetent” turtle farmer — that human rights violations and food shortages are sometimes trivialized. And the fact is, it’s getting harder to escape from North Korea. From 2007 to 2011, about 2,600 people fled each year to the South. The following two years, after Kim Jong-un assumed power following his father’s death, border security tightened and defections fell by 44 percent. A 2014 survey found that less than half of Americans have heard of North Korea’s prison camps.

Despite the grim situation, a handful of defectors have attempted to go back over the years. In one case in South Korea, the government has refused to allow a 45-year-old woman to return to her husband, daughter, and ailing parents in the North. Beyond family considerations, North Koreans sometimes face alienation in South Korea.

“It’s this whole legacy,” says Park, the LINK staffer based in Seoul. “There’s general uneasiness and curiosity, and at times over-curiousity. If you’re a North Korean refugee, that’s not just one of your labels, it defines you and defines all the interactions you have.”

The depression that kept Daniel in bed for a month eventually lifted, and he found work in the kitchen at the Korean-owned sushi restaurant where he now works as a chef. He clearly takes pride in his craft, describing how the rice has to be “perfect” and the fish must be cut to just the right thickness, but it’s also clear his life is missing something. When asked what he does for fun, he says, “Clean the house.” He’s also taken up golfing. “It’s like a hobby, I don’t really love it, but I’m trying to like it,” he says. “There’s nothing else to do on my off days.”

He has a few Korean friends — one has left behind a guitar with a broken string in his living room — but he hasn’t kept in touch with his former roommates, the two women he lived with upon arriving in the Bay Area. The conversation keeps coming back to food — the plants for which his family would forage when making soup, or a dish of seasoned tofu with marinated rice that he can’t seem to replicate here.

While Daniel has managed to keep in contact with his Chinese “Grandmother,” he has not been able to communicate with his family. Some defectors send money home via elaborate smuggling networks — an estimated $15 million goes back to North Koreans each year from family members in South Korea and the US — and he described feeling guilty for even his relatively humble lifestyle.

“Financial stability, I used to think that was the most important thing, but not any more,” he says. “Relationships, I think that’s the most important thing in your life.”

Asked if he would tell his parents and siblings to attempt an escape, he says he would ask his younger sister and brother to consider it, but that his parents are likely too old. He still gets homesick, but he plans to apply for US citizenship next year and hopes to eventually open his own restaurant.

“It’s not a grand dream or anything, but I’ve realized it doesn’t matter where you work, whether it’s a restaurant or whatever, it’s what kind of mindset you have,” he says. “That’s the most important.”

The only decoration on the walls of Daniel’s home is a framed picture of Tuscany he bought at a local market. It shows a solitary Italian villa atop a hill surrounded by verdant farmland. He says years down the road, if North Korea opens up and it’s safe to return, he would like to build a nice house and go back to farming, perhaps tending a flock of sheep. But for now, he’s committed to his new life in America.

“I had to become self-sufficient, and I did it,” he says. “Sometimes I do feel miserable, but when I look back, I survived. I made it.”

Source: VICE News, 10.08.2015

Oct 8 '15 - After Turning Hundreds of North Koreans Away, Canada Now Vows to Accept Its Refugees

By Justin Ling

After spending years aggressively barring and deporting North Korean refugees trying to enter Canada, the governing Conservative Party is vowing to welcome defectors from the so-called Hermit Kingdom — but their promise might not be as concrete as they’re letting on.

Defense minister Jason Kenney promised on Wednesday that Ottawa would offer refugee status for North Koreans fleeing their country’s brutal dictatorship. Kenney is Canada’s former immigration minister and currently the point person on campaigning in cultural and immigrant communities during the federal election.

“Our Conservative government’s openness to North Korean refugees is in keeping with Canada’s best humanitarian traditions,” Kenney said in a statement.

“Special immigration measures will be developed in response to a request by the Korean community and will focus on North Korean refugees who are stuck in transit countries in Southeast Asia,” Kenney continues.

The statement specifically references private sponsorships as a way to help those who are stranded.

The program would apply only to North Koreans stuck in limbo — residing in China, Thailand, or other nearby countries — and would not give refugee status to any of the thousands of defectors in South Korea. A special program will be put in place to green-light those claims.

The announcement comes just weeks after Kenney’s government came under fire for refusing to increase numbers of Syrian refugees accepted by Canada.

Janet Dench, Executive Director of the Canadian Council for Refugees, calls the Korean announcement “a real head-scratcher.”

For one, she says, Ottawa has spent the past several years leading an aggressive effort to refuse North Korean asylum-seekers government-sponsored refugee status, and to appeal the cases of those who managed to receive it.

Dench also points out that this policy reversal appears to be only for privately-sponsored refugees — a program through which private groups or families can put up the needed resources to resettle refugees, albeit one that has been scaled back in recent years. There’s no clear commitment that things will change for government-sponsored claimants.

“I don’t know where this is coming form,” Dench. “Why would there suddenly, out of the blue, be a focus on North Koreans?”

Part of the explanation may be in the ongoing federal election.

Kenney made the announcement in the Toronto-area riding of Willowdale, home to some 12,600 Canadians of Korean origin — 9 percent of the riding. The story is the same in a handful of other Ontario ridings where the Korean population, both North and South, makes up voting blocs that could change the outcome of the election.

The Korean community has been vocal in their will to see the Canadian government do more, but years of talks and negotiations netted no results.

Statistics obtained by the Canadian Council for Refugees show that Ottawa has cracked down on refugees from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea aggressively in recent years.

Canada deals with relatively few refugee cases from North Korea — between 100 and 300 per year. In 2011 and 2012, it approved over 90 percent of those finalized claims, while roughly a quarter of those claims were abandoned by the person filing for refugee status.

Sometime after then, however, things changed.

The Immigration Refugee Board of Canada (IRB) — an independent tribunal made up of patronage appointments from the prime minister — began rejecting North Koreans en masse, citing the fact that North Koreans also receive citizenship in the Republic of Korea automatically as a reason to determine that they were not, in fact, refugees fleeing a brutal authoritarian regime.

The IRB only deals with government-sponsored refugees.

Part of the impetus for a change in policy may have been due to a spike in applications in 2012 — 719 in that year alone (although only a fraction of those were actually processed that year).

Whatever the reason, Ottawa’s refugee officials slammed the door shut.

In 2013, there were just 95 claims — 69 percent were refused.

In 2014, there were 327 claims — only one was accepted.

In the first six months of 2015, 62 refugee claims from North Koreans were either abandoned or rejected outright. Not a single application was approved.

The dramatic reversal — from 100 refugees per year to zero — was the product of clear government policy. Not only did the board clearly refocus its screening of North Korean claimants, the minister of immigration would, thanks to new powers afforded to that office by the current government, seek to overturn any decision that granted a North Korean refugee status.

Any North Koreans who are deported from Canada would be sent to South Korea.

The Conservatives maintain that they’re not turning away any legitimate refugees. They say all of those who were refused status were, in fact, South Korean-born, or at least had access to residency in South Korea.

“In cases where North Korean asylum claimants in Canada hold South Korean citizenship, the onus is on the claimant to demonstrate that he/she is facing persecution or harm in both North Korea and South Korea. Otherwise they would be expected to return to South Korea,” a government spokesperson told the Toronto Star in 2013.

In the same story from the Star, members of the Korean community in Canada said that it was unsurprising that North Koreans would flee the supposedly-hospitable South. “There is a lot of discrimination in employment. We were bullied because we spoke with a different accent,” Minseo Kim told the paper. “We were under constant surveillance because South Koreans think we are all spies.”

Kim, mother of an infant, was granted refugee status, only to have it revoked when the Minister of Immigration Chris Alexander appealed her claim, and won.

Media in Canada began picking up on the struggle of those refugees in Canada. NOW Toronto profiled three North Koreans trying to find asylum in Canada. The Walrus magazine profile a similar case. The Star documented another North Korean woman, pregnant, who had her health protections stripped while she waited for a decision on her application, as bureaucrats pre-determined her claim to be unfounded.

The problem goes back more than a decade. In 2004, under a previous government, former North Korean government official Song Dae Ri was refused refugee status — although status was granted for his toddler — even as he feared execution, should he be deported back to the Hermit Kingdom.

In a statement sent to VICE News after this story was published, Ana Curic, a spokesperson for Kenney, the Conservatives contend that these claimants “had obtained refugee protection in Canada after having made fraudulent claims. They did not disclose that they were now South Korean nationals. Typically, these individuals flew on their South Korean passports to the United States, entered Canada on those passports, and then made inland asylum claims, stating that they had never been to South Korea, and that they did not have South Korean nationality.”

But Canada is not the only one who has refused North Korean migrants.

More than 26,000 North Koreans have made it South of the demilitarized zone — which breaks down to anywhere from 500 to 2,000 a year. Yet, according to a 2014 brief from the Asian Institute for Policy Studies, socio-economic barriers make it hard for many North Koreans to work and integrate into the South.

And while the government in Seoul does offer assistance to those fleeing the oppressive North, the tough screening and integration process does deter some from entering or staying in the Republic of Korea. Fear of North Korean spies also creates an unwelcoming aura of suspicion.

Beijing also leads an aggressive campaign to root out and return North Koreans back to their home country, meaning that many of the migrants try to continue onto other parts of Southeast Asia. It’s estimated 2,500 escaped to Thailand last year — a huge jump from just 46 circa 2004.

America has only recently begun admitting North Korean defectors, accepting 186 since 2008, while Europe is home to roughly a thousand, continent-wide — the majority of them in a small London suburb.

Source: VICE News, 10.08.2015

Aug 4 '15 - State Department: 186 North Korean refugees now reside in the United States

By Elizabeth Shim

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) — The United States is now home to 186 North Korean refugees who first began to arrive in 2006 – two years after the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The North Korean refugee population in the U.S. is still small and just a fraction of other communities, Voice of America reported on Tuesday.

Major refugee communities in the U.S. include 1,078 Burmese, 879 former nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 818 Somalis.

In fiscal year 2015 – which began in October 2014 for the State Department – Washington granted asylum to one or more North Koreans per month.

In July, the United States accepted four North Korean refugees, the second highest for the fiscal year.

As refugees North Koreans receive some financial support, including a monthly stipend between $200 and $300 for eight months to cover food and medical expenses, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

After a year of residence, refugees are eligible for permanent resident status and after five years are permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship.

But the financial support Washington provides North Korean refugees pales in comparison to the support South Korea provides similar defectors.

Seoul’s resettlement dollars awarded to North Koreans have decreased over the years as more North Koreans find their way to the South, but a North Korean defector still qualifies for $5,967 in financial grants, in addition to $11,000 that goes toward long-term housing.

In some cases the U.S. government works with NGOs to resettle the North Koreans, but problems have surfaced in recent years.

In July, The Washington Post reported how a U.S.-based North Korean refugee was deprived of food by his American foster family in Richmond, Va., because they wanted to make their budget stretch.

Joseph Kim, who was then 16, said he found himself hungry in the world’s wealthiest country after years of surviving on weed soup and roasted grasshoppers in North Korea.

Source: UPI, 08.04.2015

Jul 17 '15 - Empowering North Korean refugees abroad: Programs and Projects

New programs aim to alleviate issues experienced by North Korean refugees in Europe

By Hamish Macdonald

After fleeing North Korea, the majority of refugees find themselves in neighboring China, a country that neither provides support or recognizes their refugee status. Many however manage to find third destinations where they are recognized as refugees and have been resettled, with roughly 28,000 remaining on the peninsula, residing in South Korea.

While they collectively face difficulties in employment, plus alienation and a difficult transition into a society at the opposite end of the political, economic and social spectrum, those in the South at least share a common language and long history, which can sometimes ease the disparities felt.

However, for those refugees who have resettled elsewhere, a lack of language and communication skills present formidable barriers to integration. Issues with employment, mental health and support are pervasive for the close to 1,000 refugees residing in Europe.

In light of these ongoing challenges, the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) have launched and are seeking fundraising for a set of new programs aimed at empowering and equipping refugees with the necessary skills to overcome these problems.

These include programs aimed at improving English language skills, applicable skills in new job markets and introducing mentoring for young North Koreans and support groups for North Korean women, who represent the majority of defectors and who have been subject to physical and sexual abuse in China, on their way to finding a new home.

NK News spoke to Jihyun Park, EAHRNK’s North Korean outreach and project officer, about the projects being launched, the issues faced by North Korean refugees settling abroad and how EAHRNK are aiming to address them.

Park, a North Korean defector herself, has personally witnessed and been through the issues commonly experienced by those aiming to flee the DPRK and find a new life overseas.

NK News: Many of the projects are geared towards enhancing skills for North Korean refugees. What areas do you think are most important to address and what gaps in necessary skills currently exist for North Korean refugees in Europe?

Park: I think the most important area to address is the language capabilities of many refugees. The majority of refugees arrive in Europe with no ability to speak the language of the country they arrive in.

Learning the language of their host country is important for North Korean refugees so that they can share their own personal experiences. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is such a small number of North Koreans who are able to speak English. This is important as it does not help their social advancement, or help them raise awareness. As a mother, the most important reason for me to learn English was for my children. Without being able to speak the language of their host country, many North Korean parents are not able to help their children.

How can a refugee seek healing when the appropriate medical staff don’t speak Korean and the refugees can’t speak the language of their new country? There are also some cultural differences, which make North Koreans reluctant to seek medical help for the issues they have faced.

With regards to our skills workshops, many North Korean refugees in Europe lack a complete education, so often do not have the technical skills to be able to get jobs or to raise awareness of their experiences in North Korea. With proper training, I aim to equip all defectors in Europe with the skills to express themselves and to eventually gain employment, but funding is required to do that.

NK News: How important is it for these refugees to have mentors in their resettled homes and have companies, individuals and businesses already committed to the projects in order to achieve this?

Park: It is extremely important for any refugee to have a wide-ranging support network, not only mentors. In the UK, there is a community network within the New Malden area, but this is lacking for refugees elsewhere in the UK or elsewhere in Europe.

Refugees do not, as a matter of rule, get placed in London or major capital cities throughout Europe – they get placed in smaller communities, removing any chance of them being able to easily settle. Our projects will try to mitigate that as best we can by, in the long run, having a strong web presence for resources for settlement and by offering some of the projects via the internet – we can, for instance, offer language classes via Skype.

Many refugees live in the UK, and everywhere we have found different refugee communities groups, they have been teaching driving … skills, computer skills , etc … but in the UK there still isn’t a North Korean teaching group, so this workshop is important to North Korean refugees.

NK News: You mention in your Phoenix program that the skills being learned in that project are “also important for creating leaders in different sectors for the future rebuilding of the North Korean state.” How important a role do you believe current North Korean refugees will have in the rebuilding of the country should the current status quo change?

Park: For older defectors, I believe they will play a large part in helping re-build North Korea in the short term, but the rebuilding of North Korea will not happen in a day. I am committed to supporting young North Koreans to provide them with the work experience and the skills to take the long-term lead in rebuilding the infrastructures of North Korea. Since the 1980s, North Koreans have managed to build an entire economy almost from scratch – imagine what we can do with the right education, training and mentorship! We need the public’s support to help our young North Koreans. Without support, we’ll struggle to properly assist them.

NK News: In your opinion, and having children yourself, how important is it to empower and educate the second generation of North Korean refugees living in Europe and around the world and what role do you help they can play in the future of the peninsula?

Park: I have great hopes for my children being successful in their lives, but refugees do face a struggle to achieve their potential. I hope our programs help them reach for the sky. If we reach our funding goal, I’m confident we can help these young people become successful.

In 2013 a United Nations Commission of Inquiry into North Korea human rights was conducted, but now in 2015 nothing has changed inside North Korea, our participants must build up North Korean human rights issues and also engagement inside the country, so we want to give them opportunity to learn how to work in human rights and also engagement.

NK News: The vast majority of North Korean refugees are women and many have suffered abuse and trafficking once they fled the country. Your final project is geared towards this issue. In your experience is it hard for these women to discuss these issues and to seek help to heal from their experiences following their resettlement?

Park: Last year a (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) group published report about the situation on the North Korean women in China. Speaking as a woman and as a refugee in Europe, there isn’t much help available to help us heal. That’s partly because of the small number of North Korean refugees, but also because of the language barrier. Also there are problems as many women want to hide their painful memories and hope to start new lives, so North Korean women’s voices are still lacking.

Women’s rights are a critical indicator on where a country’s human rights stand.

By speaking in a closed-door environment, we can talk about the problems we have faced to heal some of the hurt, but also think about how we can be a strong voice for the North Korean people. If we are able to invite speakers to talk about women’s rights, we can learn to become more effective advocates for our people, but we need the public’s support to help us be better advocates.

Source: NKNews, 07.17.2015

Jul 16 '15 - Helping N. Koreans help themselves

NKSC helps defectors, sends information into North Korea with aim of creating a government that represents its people

By David Tian

Kang Chol-hwan, co-author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, founded the non-partisan think-tank North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC) in 2007. Through the raising of awareness, leadership development, research and the dissemination of information, NKSC aims to promote action on issues related to North Korea based on the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of information.

Programs that NKSC undertakes include: sending USB sticks, DVDs, and radios into North Korea in an effort to increase the flow of information within its borders; publishing Eyes of Pyongyang, a magazine featuring the voices of North Korean defectors; and training North Korean defectors to become journalists.

Sharon Stratton is the U.S. program officer for NKSC. Based in New York, she manages U.S.-based projects while leading relationship-building, development and overall wider awareness of NKSC and its mission. With the help of the South Korean Ministry of Unification Stratton, along with several other NKSC staff, toured the United States with NK defectors in February 2015 for various speaking engagements at various universities and organizations, including Tufts University, Boston University, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Georgetown and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Stratton told NK News that a great deal of support for NKSC and its programs and activities come from the United States, particularly from American college students. Additionally, while there has been great progress in effectively disseminating information within North Korea, there is still significant need for technological research and development to develop technology that addresses the needs of the majority of ordinary North Koreans who cannot freely access independent information, lack access to the internet, and, if they do have computers or other hardware, the technology they do have is likely outdated with limited capacity.

NK News: NKSC has sent in thousands of USB sticks containing outside media into North Korea. How effective have they been in increasing the flow of outside information within North Korea’s borders?

Stratton: By virtue of the North Korean regime’s oppressive, strict control over information available to citizens, disseminating USBs has been effective in increasing the flow of foreign information into North Korea. Ultimately, because of the dearth of non-state-generated information in the country, this outside information and media would not be available if international groups were not making deliberate efforts to send it into North Korea.

Of course, there are significant challenges in measuring effectiveness; it is difficult to know, for example, with exact certainty who and how many people are encountering the USBs being sent in, as well as precisely which locations USBs are reaching within the country. NKSC works with trusted partners in the field who are able to conduct interviews in North Korea and on the China-North Korea border regions. Through these interviews, NKSC can gauge the conditions in the country regarding responses to foreign media accessed via USBs.

One of the most referenced indicators of the effectiveness of these information campaigns (sending USBs and foreign media) is testimonies from North Korean defectors. So many defectors who resettle in South Korea recall having learnt for the first time about aspects of the world outside of North Korea after having encountered a foreign TV show, radio broadcast or movie. We know from a combination of defector testimonies and feedback from our partners in the field that access to foreign media within North Korea is increasing, as is the popularity and desire for certain kinds of media and preferences for particular genres and shows.

NK News: Have there ever been any situations in which smugglers were apprehended with these USB sticks and other devices? What does NKSC do in such an event?

Stratton: NKSC has not been apprehended on the border or when directly engaged in any distribution activity. USBs are concealed in various ways amongst existing trade goods, so that they move across the border alongside other official and unofficial trade networks.

Moreover, over the past seven years, NKSC has established a network based on long-lasting relationships of mutual trust. Our local partners range from businessmen to border patrol, and we have cooperation on both sides of the China-North Korea border in all aspects of our campaign.

NK News: Earlier this year, you and several members of NKSC came to the United States on a speaking tour with support from South Korea’s Ministry of Reunification. How did this tour get established? What have the responses among attendees been like? Is there widespread support among American college students?

Stratton: We were supported by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MoU) through NKSC’s international youth engagement initiative, Woorihana, which focuses specifically on projects engaging youth around North Korean human rights issues and awareness-raising. MoU recognizes the importance of engaging in discussion with students on issues surrounding North Korea, and as we have a long history of working with MoU running programs to bring together defectors and international students in South Korea, it made sense for us to bring Woorihana to the U.S. Other examples of our past collaboration with MoU include our speaker series, mentoring and cultural exchange programs in elementary, middle and high schools as well as camps.

NKSC have always had a huge amount of support and interest from individuals and organizations in the U.S., with a particular enthusiasm from U.S. college students to learn about our work and ways to contribute. We have a high number of U.S. college students who intern and volunteer at our Seoul office. So for the Woorihana speaking tour, we partnered with colleges that had active North Korean human rights students groups who were eager to host us for an event at their college. We presented at Tufts Fletcher School of Diplomacy, Boston University, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Georgetown and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and were so encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive feedback at each event. Most students had either little or no knowledge of human rights conditions in North Korea, and had never met a North Korean defector.

We wanted students to have the opportunity to meet and share conversations with defectors, to share cultural exchange, and to have person-to-person interactions while learning about conditions in North Korea and the very real, human impact of such conditions. North Korea cannot be marginalized by narrow emphases on its mass games, nuclear tests and an autocratic Supreme Leader with a fondness for the NBA. We believe it’s important that students are able to find a deeper understanding of what the country is like for the majority of the population and demystify some of the stereotypes that are applied to North Koreans generally. Central to our discussion at these events was the importance of increasing access to information within North Korea as a strategy to empower citizens with knowledge and resources in order to encourage independent, critical thinking.

Rather than suggest that we should expect change in North Korea to come from outside the country, we discussed the importance of supporting and empowering North Korean people to want to initiate changes for themselves. To do this, North Koreans need independent information to provide context that allows them to reflect critically on their own country and government. NKSC believes that independent thought, freedom to participate in political and civil life, and the freedom to disagree with your government without fear of persecution are the cornerstones of a strong, democratic society. North Koreans should also be able to realize these freedoms.

The idea of empowerment of ordinary North Koreans seemed to be a perspective that a lot of students hadn’t encountered in their studies on approaches to North Korea, with many expressing that that they found ideas of self-determination and empowerment through information for North Koreans compelling.

NK News: Has NKSC received any official response from the North Korean government for its programs and activities?

Stratton: No, NKSC has not received any official response, given that our headquarters are based in Seoul and North Korea do not have formal, direct diplomatic ties with South Korea. However, the North Korean government does make its general opposition to foreign media and information, as well as the severity of punishment for North Koreans accessing this information, very well known through state propaganda.

NK News: Can you tell us about some of the outcomes for NKSC’s programs? For example, the journalist training program for defectors, and sending foreign media into North Korea.

Stratton: NKSC take great care to send content that will be amenable to North Koreans based on focus groups that we carry out regularly with defectors and our field partners where we place foremost feedback from within North Korea about what kind of content is in demand. As well as entertainment (South Korean dramas are particularly popular), NKSC prioritizes sending informative, educational and inspiring content that takes into consideration cultural and social modes in North Korea, whilst sharing insights about the world outside the country and alternate social, political and economic realities. We really take seriously the quality and potential impact of content that we distribute into North Korea.

With regards to the outcomes of our other programs, all of our programs and activities fall under our four organization strategies – raising awareness, leadership development, information dissemination and research, so each has different outcomes.

As you’ve mentioned, NKSC ran a program in Seoul called journalist academy (JA) between 2011-2014, involving a total of nearly 200 college-aged defectors resettled in South Korea. JA was a part of our leadership development strategy, and aimed to cultivate journalists with a North Korean background by providing training in critical writing and communications skills through structured theoretical and practical training, including workshops and having their writings published. A couple of our JA participants were actually contributors to NK News, through the Ask a North Korean section. Defectors play an important role as voices on issues pertaining to North Korea, so NKSC saw the need to ensure that young defectors were supported to communicate critically through their published written work. We had agreements with media outlets (e.g. Chosun Ilbo, the Daily NK, Independent Times and the Yonhap News Agency) who provided internships for JA participants, to add to their professional learning experience.

So, as well as having their pieces published through various online media outlets, extended training was offered for participants to be involved in the project “Eyes of Pyongyang” – a photographic essay series that incorporated personal photos from defectors with reflections on their lives in North Korea. Further, students who successfully completed the JA program were eligible to be speakers for the unification education program (which falls under our leadership development strategy), where young defectors visit primary and secondary schools throughout South Korea to talk about their personal experiences in North Korea and open up the discussion to unification.

NKSC conduct a lot of activities under our raising awareness strategy, including our speaker series run in Seoul that aims to engage the English-speaking community with North Korea experts and defectors for informative subject-specific presentations; speaking tours in the U.S. and Canada, that reach out to students and young professionals; and participation in international seminars that deal with a range of North Korea-related issues.

Finally, NKSC also carries out research that utilizes our networks in China, South Korea and North Korea to provide up-to-date and critical primary information and insights on North Korea. NKSC conducted a study into the labor conditions of state-designated overseas North Korean laborers in Russia, China, Kaesong Industrial Complex and Kuwait that provided an analysis of the exploitative nature of just one of North Korea’s foreign currency-earning operations. Other research has included, but is not limited to, an analysis of the IT infrastructure landscape in North Korea, and responses to foreign media in North Korea.

NK News: What are NKSC’s ultimate end goals? How will NKSC measure whether it has achieved these goals?

Stratton: NKSC’s ultimate objective is to see a North Korea that protects, fosters and governs in the interest of its people, under a democratic government that respects fundamental human rights. We envision a North Korea where the people themselves will initiate progress and change based on their own self-determination.

As we’re not in a position to be able to interview people directly in North Korea, we gauge our progress towards this vision by monitoring reactions through our information dissemination campaigns and research in the defector community. Reports that we receive confirming increased access to and desire for foreign content is one positive indicator that North Koreans have a desire to learn outside of what their government is dictating; feedback that we receive from North Korean residents is one of our most important evaluators.

NK News: Can you tell us a little more about what you think about current campaigns to spread outside information in North Korea? What has been done well? What could be improved?

Stratton: As proponents of the principle that more access to independent, outside information is a positive for North Koreans, we support campaigns that aim to do this in a manner most effective and safe (as possible) for North Koreans.

In terms of areas where there could be improvement – there is a great need for R&D to innovate new technology that adequately addresses certain challenging factors: minimizing physical risk of being discovered by authorities, devices that are not reliant on internet (given the lack of access for ordinary North Koreans), and need for significant memory capacity. North Korea presents complex and somewhat unique challenges in terms of how we share our world of information with the country, and greater cooperation between organizations that have experience in distribution of foreign media into North Korea and innovative technologists, is certainly an area that we believe could be improved. For these efforts, we welcome organizations and individuals who are interested in our work to contact us with ideas on cooperation.

Source: NKNews, 07.16.2015

Apr 13 '15 - Empowering North Korean defectors in the U.S.

By David Tian

In 2004, President George W. Bush signed into law the North Korean Human Rights Act, which was subsequently reauthorized in 2008 and again in 2012. Among other things, this act made North Korean refugees eligible for political asylum in the United States.

Due to factors such as having a shared language, similar cultures and relative proximity, the vast majority of North Korean defectors who have been granted asylum select to resettle in South Korea, where they undergo intensive training at the Hanawon facility and receive cash stipends from the South Korean Government.

However, the numbers of North Korean defectors opting to settle in the United States has been on the increase. In 2006, the first group of nine arrived but as of 2014, this number increased to 171, with over forty defectors arriving after the last reauthorization of the North Korean Human Rights Act. Defectors, when settling in new countries, often face difficulties due to the stark contrasts in society, employment and culture between their new home and their old one. ENoK, a Chicago based non-profit, seeks to provide resettlement services to North Korean defectors, which includes education training and preparation.

ENoK runs a program called Empower House that provides housing, cultural immersion, and tutoring services for a select number of young North Korean refugees who have been granted asylum in the United States. Ultimately, the end goal of Empower House is for its participants to get accepted at four-year colleges and universities, allowing them not just to settle but to advance in their new, chosen society.

NK News had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Hong, founder and president of ENoK, about the organization’s programs and services.

NK News: In your experience, what have been the greatest challenges faced by North Korean defectors trying to resettle in the United States?

Hong: The biggest challenges faced by North Korean defectors trying to resettle in the United States are: 1) the long time that they have to wait in Thailand or another country until they are admitted to America; 2) the language barrier; 3) their lack of knowledge about different government programs that they are eligible for in the early stages of their resettlement; and 4) the freedom of choice and the responsibility that follows this freedom, which they are not used to.

The defectors, in order to enter the U.S., must wait about one year, often confined in a jail-like space. Many give up waiting and end up changing their destination to South Korea, the entrance into which can take as short a period as a couple of weeks. Granted, the U.S. State Department has many refugee applications to review, and it is important that they go through this process carefully for national security. From a perspective of a North Korean defector, one year of confinement is a great challenge, and thus, greater efficiency in the process without loss of diligence would greatly be appreciated.

The obvious challenge to an immigrant from a non-English speaking country applies to North Korean defectors, perhaps to a greater extent than even their Southern counterparts because most likely they did not receive as much training in English as South Koreans before leaving their country.

North Korean defectors who enter the U.S. as legal refugees normally receive automatic benefits (food stamps, stipends, Medicaid, etc.) for the first 8 months after their entry. However, even after this period, they are often eligible for many government programs only if they knew and were able to fill out the necessary paperwork by themselves. Community service organizations and other government agencies exist to help refugees with this, but I have seen too many North Korean refugees who never received these benefits or services just because they were never aware of them. In America, each individual is left on his or her own to seek any information that one needs or wants, but to a North Korean, who lived all one’s life in a socialist state like North Korea, this is a daunting task, so somebody needs to be available before they can ask, and this is one of the areas that ENoK tries to fill the gap in by informing the defectors under our care and helping them fill out various applications.

The challenge does not end in having people available to tell them what is out there. Another problem that is in a way opposite of the problem discussed above is that normally North Korean defectors are not used to the breadth of options that they can take living in this new country. Once they enter the U.S., North Korean defectors interact with people from many different backgrounds and with their own opinions. Naturally, they will hear different advice, and I have seen many refugees who make a decision (such as picking up a job versus studying) based on only a narrow picture–in most cases, this means more money. Most people offer them something with good intentions, but without the whole picture of the refugees’ lives in mind, particularly in the long run. This often leads the defectors to spend the first few years in America hopping from one job to another with no clear direction in their mind in the end. Having lived in a socialist state for their entire lives, the defectors are not used to having many choices, and thus, they are not used to making cost-benefit assessments of different options, which results in their choosing the path that yields the most immediate results, but not necessarily the best path.

NK News: What services does ENoK provide for North Korean defectors in the United States that other resettlement programs do not?

Hong: ENoK provides the defectors in our programs with what we call Korean-style tutoring services and college counseling services. The majority of staff and volunteers at ENoK are bilingual undergraduate or graduate students who are well-versed in learning English as a foreign language and in preparing for post-secondary education in the States. Armed with such expertise, ENoK provides defectors with academic services, which would cost well above $500 per week in South Korea, free of charge. Our Empower House is like a mini boarding school, and the in-house supervisors have an extensive knowledge of how a boarding school should be run with a decade-long experience of attending boarding schools.

NK News: In what ways does ENoK provide retraining and re-education for participants in its Empower House project?

Hong: Largely, there are two ongoing programs offered by ENoK to North Korean defectors. First, RealPal is a mentoring program where each defector is matched with a volunteer. They normally meet once a week, either in person or online, to study English or other academic subjects. Secondly, Empower House, first opened last fall, is a more comprehensive program in which defectors are invited to live with each other in “Empower House” where they spend one or two years to close the academic gap required for them to pursue higher education. All living necessities are provided for by this program. All that is required of the defectors in this program is to have a clear set goal in partaking in this program, study their hardest, and follow house rules.

NK News: Have you noticed any gaps between North Korean defector students who received their education in North Korea and students who have received western-style educations? If so, can you comment on what the biggest gaps are?

Hong: The biggest gaps are in English grammar and vocabulary and math. It is interesting to see that there is a huge difference between international South Korean students (or immigrants) and North Korean defector students here in the U.S. South Korean students are often strong in grammar and have large vocabulary while they are weak in conversational English. However, North Korean defectors are often strong in conversational English, but they are weak in grammar and have small vocabulary. This most likely reflects the fact that North Koreans did not receive as much formal training in English as their Southern counterparts while North Korean defectors had to learn English in order to survive in their new country. Similarly, while many expect North Korean defectors to be good at math just because of the Asian stereotype, the level of their math is often around third grade level as they did not receive much consistent training in math. On the other hand, they are very quick in real-life situations such as when doing business, compared to South Korean students who have less experience in the real world.

NK News: What kinds of challenges do these gaps pose and how can they be overcome?

Hong: At ENoK, for the first couple of months, we focus heavily on teaching grammar and expanding the students’ vocabulary. After that, we shift our focus to math, especially if the defectors need to pass the GED.

NK News: Can you tell us some success stories ENoK and Empower House have had? Can you tell us about some setbacks or ongoing challenges?
Empower House is still very young for us to have had major success stories or setbacks. Our students are making gradual but sure progress in both English and math. Some of them will begin their college applications this summer, and others will take the GED. We have been able to provide the participants with housing in good condition and abundance of food as well as help them file various applications. The demand is growing to join Empower House across the country, and we are trying our best to meet this demand, which is our greatest challenge at the moment.

NK News: What is the end goal for participants in Empower House? How will you measure whether or not they have succeeded? If ENoK is successful with this program, do you believe that it can be expanded to other cities, regions, or countries and be successful as well?

Hong: The first goals of Empower House participants vary depending on their prior education level, but for most of them, their end goals are acceptance into a four-year college, and ENoK plans to help seek funding for their college education when the time comes as well. We closely track each student’s progress by keeping a weekly evaluation/performance metrics sheet for each student. It is too early a stage right now to expand the program to other cities and regions, but it is definitely a possibility in the long term. Success in each place will depend largely on 1) the ability to raise funds to finance the expenses operating each House, and 2) the ability to recruit as many qualified and committed in-house supervisors and volunteers or have a few paid staff for each House.

NK News: The Empower House project heavily relies on volunteers from the University of Chicago. What have the volunteers’ responses been, and is there a large awareness on the University of Chicago campus about North Korean-related issues?

Hong: The volunteers expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve and develop friendships with people whom they would have never met otherwise. I believe there is a growing awareness of North Korea-related issues on campus at the University of Chicago. For instance, this year’s annual culture show presented by Korean Student Organization had Empower House as a premise.

Source: NKNews, 04.13.2015

Feb 28 '15 - (North Korea's Economy) Spring Release

IN A fast-changing region, one thing has long been a constant: the utter disregard that the mafia dynasty ruling North Korea evinces for the welfare of ordinary people. So growing evidence of liberalising reforms in North Korea is tantalising.

“Reform” remains a taboo word in the North. But new measures in the countryside appear to sanction people farming for the market rather than for the state. It represents a tacit abandonment of state collectives in favour of family farming, and seems already to have had an effect. For the first time in decades, North Korea grew nearly enough to feed itself last year. Thanks to better harvests, the North Korean economy could grow by 7.5% this year, compared with annual growth of little more than 1% for a decade, reckons the Hyundai Research Institute, a think-tank in Seoul, the capital of South Korea. Asia’s basket case could prove to be its fastest-growing economy.

Caveats abound. North Korea divulges little useful data, and last year the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) was not allowed in to conduct field checks. Many homes still have too little to eat—North Koreans on average consume a little over half the number of calories of their rich brethren in South Korea (for other comparisons, see chart). Still, anecdotal evidence suggests that change in this benighted country is under way.

The agricultural experiment seems to have been devised in secret after Kim Jong Un came to power just over three years ago following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il. It was set in motion from 2013. Initially, it allowed groups of about a dozen labourers to register as agricultural work teams, effectively reorganising the big socialist collectives that have been a feature of North Korean agriculture since the 1950s. Farmers were also allowed to retain 30% of a new quota on production—a much bigger share than before. In addition, they could keep (ie, sell on the market) any excess harvest above the quota. Previously any surplus would have gone to the state.

Under a plan referred to as the May 30th measures, those teams were shrunk again last year, to the size of a typical family, while their share of the quota was enlarged to 60%. Even the permitted size of families’ kitchen gardens, which are far more productive patches than land tilled for the state, have been expanded dramatically, from 100 square metres to 3,300 square metres. For Andrei Lankov, a longtime watcher of North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul, the new measures, a quasi-privatisation of state land, are nothing short of revolutionary.

A second area of experimentation, in state industry, is equally striking. Under the May measures, state factory managers may appoint their own employees, set workers’ salaries, buy raw materials on the market and sell part of their production there too. Like farmers, managers will need to pay their dues to the state. Yet, says Mr Lankov, that is not so different from paying corporate taxes in a capitalist economy.

The regime is also promoting special economic zones (SEZs) with gusto, thanks to a new law on them. Andray Abrahamian of Choson Exchange, a non-profit group that organises business workshops in North Korea, describes a “palpable energy and excitement” among officials in charge of SEZs.

The oldest zone is the export-processing hub of Rason, in the north-east of the country near the borders with Russia and China. It was set up in 1991 and languished for years. But recent development has been swift. Chinese firms have paved roads linking its port to the Chinese border. Last July a new port terminal, linked to a freight railway to Russia, was launched. At a recent forum in Seoul on doing business in North Korea, Mark Kim, a Korean-American who operates a shoe factory in Rason, said his football boots were “selling like hot cakes” in the North (though he has yet to make a profit). Rason has also become the first place in North Korea where you are allowed to own your home.

The government has announced a further 19 SEZs since 2013, small hubs of between two and four square kilometres for everything from tourism (Chinese occasionally holiday in the North) and software development, to fertiliser- and rice-production. Nearly every North Korean city now has one or two zones (though, Mr Abrahamian says, they remain “underfunded and underconnected”).

Reforms have been announced before, in 2002. Aiming to motivate labourers by aligning state and market prices, Kim Jong Il declared that subsidies to state-owned firms would be withdrawn, while farmers could sell any extra produce in small-scale markets. Yet by 2005 these measures had been rolled back. This time round, comparisons to China’s economic lift-off from the late 1970s are being made more readily. Though his father died peacefully in his bed, Kim Jong Un may think his only chance of survival is change. Some analysts argue that he shows far more desire to improve livelihoods than his father ever did. Pak Pong Ju, the architect of the 2002 experiments (who has seen the fruits of Chinese reforms for himself), has re-emerged from the political wilderness and is now Mr Kim’s prime minister. Mr Kim visits orphanages and amusement parks, and regularly speaks of improving people’s quality of life. He has positioned himself as the champion of a growing urban consumer class in the capital, Pyongyang.

Yet there are grounds for scepticism. Perhaps the best that can be said of the new measures is that they try to narrow the gulf between the regime’s upbeat propaganda (“Make fruits cascade down and their sweet aroma fill the air on the sea of apple trees at the foot of Chol Pass!”) and the sordid reality of the lives that many North Koreans lead.

A new generation of North Koreans has little recollection of families depending on the state for all their needs, says Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a group that works with defectors. A disastrous currency confiscation in 2009 hit small traders hardest, cementing distrust of the state. It even instilled a degree of defiance in those who had to work against the state system to survive. Young urban North Koreans recently defecting to the South claim not to have been afraid to criticise the Kims among close friends and family. This group, hooked on foreign media being smuggled into the North, now refers to itself as “awoken”, says Mr Park. As ever more information from outside is ferreted into the country on DVDs and USB drives, state rhetoric and reality grow further apart. Parts of the regime understand this. Some of the impetus for the market-oriented measures, says Christopher Green of Daily NK, a news source with informants in the North, is to bring rhetoric and reality closer into line.

(Not quite Chol Pass, but it’s an improvement)

In other words, the regime may not be leading change so much as responding to it. The collapse of the public distribution system, through which the command economy used to apportion goods, including food, was both a cause and consequence of the famine. Informal trading and smuggling networks, and black markets for food, sprang up as a result of it. The state has on occasion tried to suppress these markets, but has no more succeeded than with its attempts to reinstate the distribution system. Today, three-quarters of what most people earn probably comes from an unregulated private economy. A forthcoming book, “North Korea Confidential”, by James Pearson and Daniel Tudor (a former correspondent for The Economist), says that nearly all North Koreans lead a “double economic life”, supplementing measly rations and puny state wages of as little as $1 a month with extra work in their spare time.

To an extent, the recent top-down measures may be an acknowledgment that the bottom-up change of the past 15 or so years is irreversible. In fact, the regime has a growing interest in the non-state economy. Officials tolerate private trade partly because they get a cut—in effect running a protection racket. Many have become entrepreneurs themselves, managing state firms for private profit. The Kim family itself gets money from such firms. To the extent that the state has recently cracked down on smuggling from China, it is in order for Mr Kim and the elites around him to get a bigger share of the pie, according to Kim Kwang Jin, an analyst and North Korean defector who once worked in the regime’s “royal-court” economy.

Yet official corruption and protection rackets point to the limits of reform. There are rumours of local officials taking a cut of farmers’ crops. Concerned about losing influence and privileged access to food, some officials are also trying to revive the state plan, says Randall Ireson, an expert on North Korean agriculture. Meanwhile, farmers will continue to depend on ropy government agencies for essential materials such as fertiliser and oil. As for last year’s higher yields, they come at a price: emptying water reservoirs during a dry spell has left the country facing even more severe shortages of electricity than usual.

There is a deeper lesson from the Chinese reform path. It is that real, sustained improvements to a decrepit economy are possible only with outside expertise and capital. Yet, fearful of political meddling, the North remains deeply suspicious of foreign investment. Commercial relations with China, supposedly an ally, are abysmal, with Chinese mining and trading companies complaining of broken contracts and outright theft by their North Korean state partners. Even Rason, at the forefront of North Korea’s economic experiments, has yet to receive promised Chinese electricity from neighbouring Jilin province. A third bridge being constructed over the Yalu river, which separates the southern end of the two countries’ border, was set to open in October; yet roads linking it to transport networks on either side are unfinished, and work on it has stalled.

But it is North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programmes that do most to darken its relations with the outside world, above all South Korea, America and Japan. (Only with Russia is North Korea on good terms, and since that amity is based on hopes of aid, it is not likely to last, given Russia’s straitened finances.) The programmes have brought international sanctions down on North Korea, but the North gives no impression of abandoning them.

Indeed, according to a report by the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC, North Korea’s stockpile is poised for rapid expansion. From about a dozen weapons today, North Korea could build 100 within five years, even without a fourth nuclear test. Its plutonium-based weapons, the report claims, have already been miniaturised to carry on medium-range ballistic missiles.

It may be that the regime wants to develop the economy. But it is certainly not going to do so at the expense of developing nuclear weapons—or of lessening the repression and state violence by which it stays in power. It underscores the dead end into which its leaders have driven North Korea. Even if the current reforms are maintained, the improvement to the livelihoods of North Koreans is bound to be limited, no matter which Kim is in power.

Source: The Economist, 02.28.2015

Feb 27 '15 - SK's Prime Minister Calls for Consideration of 'Freikauf'

By Lee Sang Yong

The South Korean Prime Minister, Lee Wan Koo, declared on the 25th that the government needs to consider a South Korean version of the freikauf scheme, which means the “buying of freedom,” in the German language.

Before East and West Germany reunified in 1990, the West German government paid East Germany to repatriate political dissident prisoners detained there. Shim Jae Kwon, a lawmaker of New Politics Alliance, a leading opposition party, said in an interpellation session that South Korea also needs to employ this same mechanism to the situation on the Korean Peninsula, which Lee declared worthy of consideration.

Lee also underscored the need to safeguard South Korean citizens’ safety before opening Mount Geumgang resort up to tourism again. He also stated his belief that family reunions among elderly citizens of the two Koreas, who have been separated since the end of the Korean War, can resume if the inter-Korean relationship improves.

Another issue Lee mentioned as appearing on his agenda is attempting to strike a compromise between freedom of private organizations that send anti-Pyongyang leaflets to North Korea and the safety in the citizens around the areas residing around the launch areas.

In regard to the pending law in the South Korean National Assembly aimed at protecting North Korean human rights, Lee called for measures that actually ensure these rights–namely compromise to reach a consensus between the ruling and opposition parties, which the government can employ to take the appropriate steps.

Source: DailyNK, 02.27.2015

Feb 26 '15 - Defectors at High Risk for Diabetes

By Kang Soo Jeong

A recent study showed that North Korean defectors in South Korea are at high risk for metabolic diseases. Even those who fall within a healthy Body Mass Index range have presented symptoms of these diseases, indicating that a high percentage of them will eventually develop diabetes.

The study was conducted and announced by Professor Kim Shin Gon of the endocrine center of Korea University’s Anam Hospital on February 24th. The research applied a cohort study, a form of longitudinal analysis that follows a group of people with similar traits, on North Korean defectors, referred to as NORNS [North Korean Refugees’ Health in South Korea].

This research, carried out since 2008 for humanitarian and academic purposes, has revealed the causes for the hitherto unknown causes for noninfectious ailments among some North Korean defectors.

According to the study’s results, 75% of North Koreans who were normal weight when they first arrived in South Korea have gained more weight since arrival, and reach the same rate of obesity as South Koreans within eight years after the former’s arrival in South Korea. The rate of abdominal obesity among North Koreans is markedly lower than that of South Koreans [Males 1:6; Females 1:3], but the metabolic syndrome rate is similar; metabolic syndromes are a major risk factor for diabetes, and their significantly low insulin production is thought to increase their susceptibility to diabetes.

Those whose weight increased by more than 5% since their arrival in South Korea are ten times more likely to develop a metabolic syndrome. All defectors participating in the study also showed a lack of vitamin D, presumed to be a proclivity factor for developing metabolic issues.

The research showed that some North Koreans have developed non-obese diabetes [a case in which a patient’s obesity is not severe but he or she has the same risk for metabolic illnesses as obese patients). These symptoms could become worse and conspicuously increase their risk of metabolic ailments.

Professor Kim maintained that is imperative for the NORNS cohort to improve and maintain the health of North Korean defectors, which will pave the way for more effective treatment of North Koreans and overall improvement of the health care system after reunification.

Source: DailyNK, 02.26.2015

Feb 23 '15 - Young Defectors Experience a New Kind of Lunar New Year

By Kang Mi Jin

Lee Cheol Yong, who recently enjoyed his fifth Lunar New Year since arriving in South Korea, was elated to have been able to spend another holiday with his friends, breaking out in a smile when he spoke of all of their plans together. Sadly, unlike Lee, there are many North Korean defectors who are overcome with loneliness at this time of year when they think about their hometowns back in North Korea.

Busy with adapting to an unfamiliar country and carving out a new life for themselves, the only time defectors are generally able to convene with other friends who have escaped from the North are around Chuseok and the Lunar New Year holiday. Teen defectors find this task even more difficult–busy with college and employment preparations makes finding the time to meet and reminiscence outside of these two holidays a difficult task.

In North Korea, genders are typically segregated for most holidays. Despite scant instances of men and women meeting together for class reunions, most teen refugees agreed that during the holidays, men and women met with the same gender group because it was more natural to do so in the North. However, in South Korea, these same teens have remarked how different the holiday practices can be in this regard, with friends of friends or romantic partners joining in on the celebrations.

Daily NK spoke with one young defector about this who said, “In North Korea, people don’t like it when you bring new people to their get-together, but in South Korea, they welcome the new member with open arms.” He added, “This holiday [Lunar New Year], when I told my defector friends that I would be bringing my girlfriend as well as her friends, they were excited.”

He particularly enjoys enlightening his South Korean friends as to the celebratory customs in the North and how they differ here in the South. Despite the economic and cultural disparities between the two Koreas, he appreciates that young people can still find a lot of common ground and know how to have a good time together.

These parties during the Lunar New Year typically include young defectors reminiscing about their days back in North Korea by cooking foods emblematic of their hometowns. Though the cuisine can vary widely, rice cake soup, dumplings, rice mixed with soy meat, and various types of naengmyeon [cold noodles] are omnipresent dishes.

Most of all, they feel a sense of relief from the relative economic stability that life in the South affords their families. In North Korea, most young defectors recall feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt when asking their parents for money to meet their friends during the holidays. Many of them with whom the Daily NK spoke said that while in North Korea it is virtually impossible for one person to pay for a group of friends at any celebratory gathering, it is far more plausible in the South, and that friends are generally more than willing to ensure that their less fortunate companions have a bountiful, pleasant holiday.

Kim Song Il, a university student originally from North Korea offered his sentiments on the matter, saying, “In North Korea, I felt guilty asking my mother for money every time I went out to meet friends. Even though I worked, I couldn’t do much with that income. However, in South Korea, my income balances out, so I don’t have to ask for money and burden my mother, which makes it feel more like a holiday.”

Source: DailyNK, 02.23.2015

Feb 5 '15 - Family Caught Attempting to Defect

By Kang Mi Jin

A family was recently apprehended near the China-North Korea border by State Security Department [SSD] agents after attempting to flee the country and is currently facing possible transfer to a re-education camp. Of the group, originally comprising four people, one of whom sources within the North revealed successfully fled while detained in custody, three are currently undergoing torture and investigation in the hands of security agents.

“A family of four from North Hamkyung Province attempted to escape with the help from a border guard and a smuggler near the end of last month; however, someone tipped off the proper officials, resulting in their arrest,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on February 4th. “To expedite the family’s escape, the smuggler got a number of soldiers, all of whom he deemed trustworthy, involved. But too many caught wind of the family’s plot to defect, which led to the family’s eventual capture.”

The family’s eldest son purportedly fled while being held in custody, leaving behind the parents and their younger son to endure relentless interrogation at a SSD-run detention center, where they are “as good as dead,” according to the source, because not only were they themselves planning to defect, but now their son presumably succeeded in doing so despite being held in custody.

She speculated that the three members remaining in custody will be sent to a re-education camp following the protracted interrogations, though the repercussions could prove more severe because of the son’s escape. She added that the SSD has stepped up pressure on the heads of inminban [people’s unit], threatening, “if anyone knew that he [the escapee] was bound for South Korea and did not inform us beforehand, they will face equal punishment.” Because the group was known to be headed for South Korea, “no excuse is sufficient to escape severe forms of torture,” according to residents familiar with this case–and the multitude of ones that predate it.

To stave off similar incidents the SSD has reportedly been conducting indiscriminate probes into the homes of residents living along the river. Those aware of the situation wasted no time in pointing out the obvious absurdity of such a measure, saying, “You think the person who ran away would still be here [North Korea] after knowing his death is certain?”

The source asserted that the investigations, carried out by both SSD and Ministry of People’s Safety [MPS] officials will continue until the defector is tracked down and used as an example to resolve the issue and warn others from trying to do the same.

Fortified border control utilizing special units is customary around major holidays, namely the birthdays of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, which is coming up on February 16th, however, in light of the recent incident, soldiers have commented it seems like the “special border units are already in overdrive.”

Moreover, tightened measures dating back to last September remain firmly in place, cracking down on outside phone calls and the flow of remittances into the country through border regions, resulting in a marked decrease of those fleeing the country, and an increase of arrests of those who try.

Against this backdrop, the source said these SSD border guards, yet to apprehend the escapee, “won’t be able to sleep at night,” and regarding the situation, some residents have remarked that “during times like this no one can even dream of escaping, but they [the family] were really fearless.”

Source: DailyNK, 02.05.2015

May 5 '14 - China plans for North Korean regime collapse leaked

By Julian Ryall, Tokyo

China has drawn up detailed contingency plans for the collapse of the North Korean government, suggesting that Beijing has little faith in the longevity of Kim Jong-un’s regime.

Documents drawn up by planners from China’s People’s Liberation Army that were leaked to Japanese media include proposals for detaining key North Korean leaders and the creation of refugee camps on the Chinese side of the frontier in the event of an outbreak of civil unrest in the secretive state.

The report calls for stepping up monitoring of China’s 879-mile border with North Korea.

Any senior North Korean military or political leaders who could be the target of either rival factions or another “military power,” thought to be a reference to the United States, should be given protection, the documents state.

According to Kyodo News, the Chinese report says key North Korean leaders should be detained in special camps where they can be monitored, but also prevented from directing further military operations or taking part in actions that could be damaging to China’s national interest.

The report suggests “foreign forces” could be involved in an incident that leads to the collapse of internal controls in North Korea, resulting to millions of refugees attempting to flee. The only route to safety the vast majority would have would be over the border into China.

The Chinese authorities intend to question new arrivals, determine their identities and turn away any who are considered dangerous or undesirable.

“This only underlines that all the countries with a stake in the stability of north-east Asia need to be talking to each other,” Jun Okumura, a visiting scholar at the Meiji Institute for Global Affairs, told The Telegraph.

“What we have learned from the collapse of other dictatorships – the Soviet Union, Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya – is that the more totalitarian the regime, the harder and faster they fall,” he added.

“This is why we need contingency plans and I am sure that the US and South Korea have extensive plans in place, but the release of Chinese measures is new,” he said.

Okumura believes that the timing of the leak of the study is significant, given that China can have been expected to have similar contingency plans in place for the past two decades that North Korea has been teetering on the edge of implosion.

The release of the study comes just days after Beijing issued a thinly veiled warning to Pyongyang, ahead of a fourth anticipated nuclear test, that China would “by no means allow war or chaos to occur on our doorstep.”

China, which is North Korea’s sole remaining significant supporter, also refused to export any crude oil over its border to the North in the first three months of the year.

Source: The Telegraph, 05.05.2014

Feb 18 '14 - U.N. rights commissioner urges prosecution of North Korean crimes

(Reuters) – U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged world powers on Tuesday to refer North Korea to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) following a U.N. report documenting crimes against humanity.

North Korean security chiefs and possibly even Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un himself should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, U.N. investigators said on Monday.

“We now need strong international leadership to follow up on the grave findings of the Commission of Inquiry. I therefore call on the international community, in line with the report’s recommendations, to use all the mechanisms at its disposal to ensure accountability, including referral to the International Criminal Court,” Pillay said in a statement issued in Geneva.

The independent U.N. investigators, led by Michael Kirby, recommended that the world body refer the situation in North Korea to the Hague-based ICC or set up a special tribunal.

The team also recommended targeted U.N. sanctions against civil officials and military commanders suspected of the worst crimes. North Korea is already subject to U.N. sanctions for refusing to give up its atomic bomb program.

Earlier on Tuesday, China rejected what it said was “unreasonable criticism” of Beijing in the U.N. report, but it would not be drawn on whether it would veto any proceedings in the Security Council to bring Pyongyang to book.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, a 47-member state forum that launched the inquiry a year ago, is due to hold a debate on the report on March 17 and vote on its recommendations by March 28.

The United States co-sponsored the commission of inquiry (COI) along with Japan, the European Union and South Korea although, like China, it is not a member of the ICC.

In a statement on Monday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department said Washington looked forward “to thoroughly reviewing the report and discussing its recommendations with our partners, who share our deep concern about the human rights situation” in North Korea.

The report “provides compelling evidence of widespread and systematic human rights violations” by North Korea, where the rights situation was “among the world’s worst,” spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

“We will continue to work closely with the international community to sustain international attention on the deplorable human rights situation in North Korea beyond the work of the COI,” she added.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in China last week and said after talks in Beijing on Friday that China and the United States were discussing specific ways to press North Korea to give up its nuclear program.

A State Department official said on Tuesday that the United States and China agreed on “the fundamental importance of a denuclearized North Korea” but declined to comment on what he said were “private diplomatic conversations.”

Western countries and independent experts have accused China of failing to implement properly U.N. sanctions on North Korea, including punitive measures adopted after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test last February.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Tom Miles and Cynthai Osterman)

Source: Reuters, 02.18.2014

Feb 17 '14 - World must act on North Korea rights abuse, says UN report

The international community must act on evidence that crimes against humanity are being committed in North Korea, says a long-awaited UN report.

A panel of experts mandated by the UN’s Human Rights Council said North Koreans had suffered “unspeakable atrocities”, and that those responsible, including leader Kim Jong-un, must face justice.

The panel heard evidence of torture, political repression and other crimes.

Pyongyang refused to co-operate with the report and rejects its conclusions.

The UN commission said Mr Kim had failed to respond to an advance copy of the report, and a letter which warned him he could be held personally responsible for abuses.

Testimony given to the panel from defectors included an account of a woman forced to drown her own baby, children imprisoned from birth and starved, and families tortured for watching a foreign soap opera.

Michael Kirby, chairman of the independent Commission of Inquiry, said the report “calls for attention from the international community”.

“At the end of the Second World War so many people said ‘if only we had known… if only we had known the wrongs that were done in the countries of the hostile forces’,” he said.

(The North’s leaders are frequent targets of angry protests in the South)

“Well, now the international community does know… There will be no excusing of failure of action because we didn’t know,” he said, at a news conference at UN headquarters in Geneva.

“Too many times in this building there are reports and no action. Well this is a time for action.”

‘Unspeakable atrocities’

The BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva says the report is one of the most detailed and devastating ever published by the United Nations.

The “gravity, scale and nature” of the allegations “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”, it says.

The report says that in North Korea:

– there is “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion” in North Korea
– “entrenched patterns of discrimination”, rooted in the state-assigned class system, affect every part of life
– discrimination against women is “pervasive in all aspects of society”
– the state “has used food as a means of control over the population” and deliberately blocked aid for ideological reasons, causing the deaths of “hundreds of thousands” of people
“hundreds of thousands of political prisoners” have died in “unspeakable atrocities” in prison camps in the past 50 years
– security forces “systematically employ violence and punishments that amount to gross human rights violations in order to create a climate of fear”

“In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity,” says the report.

(The cult of personality surrounding the Kim family is as strong as ever in North Korea)

(North Korea commemorated the birthday of Kim Jong-il, who died in 2011, on Sunday)

“These are not mere excesses of the state; they are essential components of a political system that has moved far from the ideals on which it claims to be founded.”

The UN “must ensure that those most responsible for the crimes against humanity” are held accountable, through a referral to the International Criminal Court, or a UN tribunal.

The UN should also adopt targeted sanctions “against those who appear to be most responsible for crimes against humanity”, says the report, and increase its monitoring of rights abuses in North Korea.

North Korea declined to participate in the panel’s investigation, and said it “categorically and totally rejects” the findings.

Its response came in a two-page statement sent to Reuters from its diplomatic mission in Geneva.

“The DPRK [North Korea] once again makes it clear that the ‘human rights violations’ mentioned in the so-called ‘report’ do not exist in our country.”

Mr Kirby said there was “a very good way to answer the many charges and complaints – and that is to allow the door to be opened” to the international community so they could see the situation for themselves.

(Since Kim Jong-un took over, his regime has threatened nuclear war and conducted a deadly purge)

Although this information has been in the public domain for years, the panel’s inquiry is the highest-profile international attempt to investigate the claims.

South Korea welcomed the report, saying it hoped it would “raise the international community’s awareness”, while the US said it “clearly and unequivocally documents the brutal reality” of the Pyongyang regime.

However China, North Korea’s only ally, said it would “not help resolve the human rights situation”.

The panel will formally present its findings next month, when the Human Rights Council will decide which recommendations to support.

But it remains unclear what action will result. Correspondents say China would be likely to block any attempt to refer the North to the International Criminal Court.

An ad-hoc tribunal, like those set up for Rwanda, Sierra Leone or Cambodia, would appear unlikely without co-operation from elements within the country.

Source: BBC, 02.17.2014

Feb 17 '14 - UN documents North Korean torture chambers, prison camps ... and luxury goods

(Reuters) – United Nations human rights investigators on Monday issued a damning report cataloguing massive human rights violations in North Korea that they said amount to crimes of humanity which should be brought to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The 372-page report is the result of a year-long investigation marked by unprecedented public testimony by defectors at hearings held in South Korea, Japan, Britain and the United States.

Kim Jong-un may be personally responsible for crimes against humanity, top U.N. investigator Michael Kirby said in a Jan. 20 letter to the North Korean leader that accompanies the report.

Here are some excepts from the report, to be debated by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 17:


“Systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its institutions and officials. In many instances, the violations of human rights found by the commission constitute crimes against humanity.

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world,” the report said.

“A number of long-standing and ongoing patterns of systematic and widespread violations which were documented by the commission, meet the high threshold required for proof of crimes against humanity in international law. The perpetrators enjoy immunity.

“The key to the political system is the vast political and security apparatus that strategically uses surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent.”


“Persons who are forcibly repatriated from China are commonly subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, summary execution, forced abortion and other forms of sexual violence.

China should “respect the principle of non-refoulement and accordingly abstain from forcibly repatriating any persons to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.

“China should raise with the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and other high-level authorities the issues of abductions, the infanticide of children entitled to Chinese nationality, forced abortions imposed on repatriated women and other human rights violations that target persons repatriated from China.

The report includes a Dec. 16 letter from chairman Kirby to China’s ambassador in Geneva, Wu Haitao, urging him to “caution relevant officials that such conduct on their part could amount to the aiding and abetting (of) crimes against humanity”.

Wu’s reply, dated Dec. 30, said North Koreans enter China illegally for economic reasons and some are engaged in “criminal acts such as theft, robbery, illegal harvesting”. Some North Koreans repeatedly enter China illegally, demonstrating that the allegation that repatriated citizens face torture is “not true”, Wu’s letter said.

The Commission of Inquiry cited estimates that there are 10,000 to 25,000 children born of Chinese fathers and North Korean mothers. “The status of most of these children appears to be effectively stateless, as the Chinese families have been discouraged from registering such children because of the illegal status of their mothers,” it said.

North Korean agents “appear to be operating on Chinese territory and attempting to gather information about DPRK citizens and persons supporting them. On some occasions, they appear even to have abducted DPRK citizens and at least one national of the ROK (Republic of Korea)”.


“Suspects of major political wrongs may find themselves in a detention interrogation centre anywhere from a few days to six months or more,” it said.

“Torture is an established feature of the interrogation process”, it said, citing testimony about a “torture chamber” at a detention facility of the State Security Department equipped with a water tank, shackles used to hang suspects upside down, and long needles driven underneath a suspect’s fingernails.

“Many suspects die at interrogation detention centres as a result of torture, deliberate starvation or illnesses developed or aggravated by the terrible living conditions.”

“If they are not executed immediately, persons held accountable for major political wrongs are forcibly disappeared to political prison camps that officially do not exist. Most victims are incarcerated for life, without chance of leaving the camps alive.”

“The limited information that seeps out from the secret camps also creates a spectre of fear among the general population in the DPRK, creating a powerful deterrent against any future challenges to the political system.”

“Four large prison camps are known to exist in the DPRK today,” it said, adding that there may be additional ones and that there were 12 camps or more in the past.

“Over time, the system has been consolidated. Some camps were closed down and the remaining inmates transferred to other sites, which were expanded.

Sources including human rights groups concur there has been a drop in the political prison camp population over the last few years, but this may be partly due to an “extremely high rate of deaths in custody,” due to starvation and neglect, arduous force labour, disease and executions, the U.N. report said.

The Korea Institute for National Unification estimates 80,000 to 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps today, based on recent satellite imagery and first-hand testimony, the report said. The activist group Committee on Human Rights in North Korea put the figure at 80,000 to 130,000.


A 1995 food crisis sparked by floods and the collapse of support and hard currency from the Soviet Union led to famine.

“The State has used food as a means of control over the population …. The State has also used deliberate starvation as a means of control and punishment in detention facilities. This has resulted in the deaths of many political and ordinary prisoners.

“Military spending – predominantly on hardware and the development of weapons systems and the nuclear programme – has always been prioritised, even during periods of mass starvation.”

“The commission finds that decisions, actions and omissions by the State and its leadership caused the death of at least hundreds of thousands of people and inflicted permanent physical and psychological injuries on those who survived.

“Hunger and malnutrition continue to be widespread. Deaths from starvation continue to be reported.

“The commission is concerned that structural issues, including laws and policies that violate the right to adequate food and freedom from hunger, remain in place, which could lead to the recurrence of mass starvation.

“In his 2014 New Year’s message, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un called for ‘decisive improvement in guidance and management of economic projects’. However, measures for agricultural reform and opening the economy were not mentioned in the speech.”


North Korea “continues allocating a significant amount of the state’s resources for the purchase and importation of luxury goods”, the report said.

Such imports are in violation of Security Council sanctions and have included high-quality cognac and whiskey and equipment for a 1,000 person cinema, it said. There have been attempts to import Mercedes-Benz vehicles, high-end musical recording equipment and dozens of pianos, it said.

“Luxury good expenditure by the DPRK rose to $645.8 million in 2012. Reportedly, this was a sharp increase from the average of $300 million a year under Kim Jong-il,” it said, citing a British newspaper report in October 2013.

North Korean authorities also engage in legal and illegal activities to earn foreign currency, channelling it into “parallel funds” outside of the regular state budget, it said.

“They are kept a the personal disposal of the Supreme Leader and used to cover personal expenses of the Supreme Leader, his family and other elites surrounding him, as well as other politically sensitive expenditures,” it said.

Revenue from criminal activity including drugs has been estimated at up to $500 million a year in 2008, amounting to a third of North Korea’s annual exports at the time, it said.

A former North Korean official, not identified in the report, provided information on the “illegal activities of DPRK embassies around the world. They were engaged in activities such as the illegal sale of alcohol in Islamic countries or the internationally prohibited trafficking of ivory from African countries to China,” the report said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay)

Source: Reuters, 02.17.2014

Feb 17 '14 - Rumors of Exile Keep Defector Families on Edge

By Kang Mi Jin

There is a rumor circulating in border regions of North Korea that the authorities are planning to send families of defectors into exile in rural interior regions. The rumor, which is keeping nerves on edge, is spreading at the end of an extended period of abnormal official steps to stem the flow of both defections and other illicit cross-border movements.

“Recently everyone has been talking about this story that defector families are about to be sent away, so households connected to defectors abroad are deeply anxious,” a source in Yangkang Province reported to Daily NK on the 17th. “Everyone seems like they are trying particularly hard in their people’s units, Women’s Union sections and workplaces.”

At the beginning of this year, investigation teams made up of Ministry of People’s Security (MPS) cadres and students affiliated with a Ministry-run university were deployed along the border to conduct broad crackdowns against illegal acts including defection. The latest rumor appears to stem from the notion that families of defectors will be cast into internal exile as the inspection period reaches its conclusion.

“There has been no actual evidence however; it’s just a rumor at this stage,” the source noted. “Nevertheless, families of defectors are cautious to avoid becoming an example to others at times like this. They stay particularly active in political events, thinking of it as a wise move to be seen performing well.

“During this unusual investigation period the security services have been patrolling local areas day and night, and this has made it difficult for people to share information. Since it’s regarded as suspicious when a number of people gather in any one place, some households have even been sharing information by landline.”

The source estimates that the actual likelihood of the rumor manifesting itself as fact is low, however, given its practicality.

“If ‘families of defectors were all to be sent into exile, this would mean most of the people in the border regions being banished, and that is impossible. People say that the state would only cause itself harm, because even if they banished us and brought in people from other regions, that would only mean a rise in the number of different defectors. People are trying hard not to believe the stories. ”

However, “They may yet banish some families as an example to others.”

On this, a defector originally from Hoeryeong told Daily NK today, “At the end of last month I had a call from my father, who told me not to call him until at least the end of March even if I am curious about the news from home. These days there is word going round that even talking on the phone can be risky to life […] Controls have gotten so harsh, and families of defectors may be suffering harassment.”

Source: Daily NK, 02.17.2014

Feb 14 '14 - Orders to Shoot as Border Controls Intensify

By Oh Hyun Woo

The North Korean authorities have instructed border guards to shoot those caught defecting across the Chinese border, a Daily NK source has revealed. This most recent order, bearing the name of Kim Jong Eun, is fueling extreme anxiety in the border regions.

“An order has been conveyed to the border control posts to severely punish those arrested for preparing or attempting to defect. Word has come down that if a defector has been exposed and responds disobediently, or ignores warnings to stop crossing the river, they are to be shot on the spot,” the source from North Hamkyung alleged.

“The border is in a state of total blockade,” the source continued. “Even those going down to the Tumen River to fetch water or wash their clothes are very closely watched. They have to be very cautious; they are worried that that if they make one mistaken step they will be made an example of.”

“People are are highly critical of the new measures. Common remarks include, ‘Why would anybody even want to become a defector?’ and, ‘If our food worries were eliminated, we wouldn’t defect even if you told us to,’” the source went on.

It was further added that these latest measures are now having a deleterious effect on the number of border crossings of both defectors and smugglers alike.

While the source admitted uncertainty over whether the border patrols would actually fire on those crossing the river, the new measures are causing locals to grow fearful, and many are making themselves scarce.

“The current atmosphere on the border is so quiet that it is frightening. People don’t know how long these border crackdowns will last – it’s killing people. They are now saying things like, ‘It would just be better if a war broke out.’”

Word is also spreading through the border regions that family members of known defectors will be banished after February 16th (the birthday of Kim Jong Il), the source reported; “The security agents are going around making threatening remarks to these families, like ‘You better make the most of this!'”

The phrase “It would just be better if a war broke out” allegedly took off during the Arduous March, indicative of the dire food shortages of the time. The term was used less in the 2000s when people began to earn a living by participating in the markets, but appears to have seen a resurgence following Kim Jong Eun’s rise to power and the subsequent crackdowns on the once-porous border areas.

“The authorities are spreading propaganda like ‘benevolence politics’ and ‘love for the people’ to try and incite loyalty to the General (Kim Jong Eun), but this hasn’t done anything to stop defections. The border controls are just getting tougher, and harsh punishment is only set to intensify would-be defectors – the ‘traitors of the Republic’” the source said.

Source: Daily NK, 02.14.2014

Feb 13 '14 - Defectors in SK Report Incomes Half National Average

By Moon Eun Ju

North Korea Refugees’ Foundation has revealed the results of its annual survey into the economic activities of adult (age 20+) defectors in South Korea, finding that they continue to earn far below the national average.

The average reported monthly income of defectors has increased by 37,000 won since 2012, the survey finds, but, at KRW 1,410,000 (approx. USD 1325), it is still just half the national average. The majority of survey respondents reported monthly incomes of KRW 1,010,000~1,500,000 (approx. USD 950-1410; 41.8%), with others reporting incomes of KRW 1,510,000~2,000,000 (approx. USD 1410-1880; 23.6%), KRW 2,010,000~3,000,000 (approx. USD 1880-2820; 7.3%), and KRW 3,000,000+ (0.7%).

Conversely, however, defectors also tend to work harder than other South Koreans, at 47.9 hours a week, 7.9 hours more than the national average. 37.6% of the total survey reported being “lower class,” and 21.5% said they felt they were “lower-middle class.”

Other problems include the rate of unemployment among defectors, which, at 9.7%, is more than three times the national average of 2.7% (the rate as of September 2013). Furthermore, it finds that just 56.9% of adult defectors are economically active, a significant tick lower than the national average of 62.1%. 20.7% of defectors also work as highly insecure day labor, much higher than the national average of 6.3%.

One area of good news concerns this last figure, however, which has been declining in recent years. It was 32.2% in 2011, 22.6% in 2012, and now 20.7% in 2013.

In addition, the survey reports a consistently high level of defector satisfaction with life in South Korea despite these economic difficulties. Respondents reported being “mostly satisfied” or “very satisfied” 54.2% and 20.3% of the time, a total of 74.5%.

The reasons for this sense of satisfaction, even as earnings stayed low, include: ‘”I get paid for the amount of work I do” at 43.5%, “I have more economic freedom than in North Korea” (42%), and “I am not under constant surveillance and regulation” (31%).

Unsurprisingly, many of the relatively small number who reported dissatisfaction with life in South Korea gave reasons of “financial difficulties” (70.2%). Other issues included the perception of “discrimination against defectors” (33.6%).

The survey sample size was 2355. 612 of the defectors surveyed were male and 1743 were female.

Source: Daily NK, 02.13.2014

Feb 2 '14 - Inside North Korea's Western-funded university

By Chris Rogers and Marshall Corwin

Entering the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, it is immediately clear this is no ordinary academic institution.

A military guard salutes us as our vehicle passes through the security checkpoint. Once inside the campus we hear the sound of marching and singing, not more guards but the students themselves.

They are the sons of some of the most powerful men in North Korea, including senior military figures.

“Our supreme commander Kim Jong-un, we will defend him with our lives,” they sing as they march to breakfast.

“Patriotism is a tradition,” explains a 20-year-old first-year student. “The songs we sing as we march are in thanks to our Great Leader.”

There are 500 students here – dressed smartly in black suits, white shirts, red ties and black, peaked caps with briefcases at their sides. They are all hand-picked by Kim Jong-un’s regime to receive a Western education.

The university’s official aim is to equip them with the skills to help modernise the impoverished country and engage with the international community.

All classes are in English and many of the lecturers are American. This is remarkable because North Korea has isolated itself from the outside world for decades and the US is its hated enemy.

After 18 months of negotiations, we have been given unique access to the students – though we are constantly monitored. The students explain they are warming to Americans – if not the US government.

”Of course at first we were nervous, but we now believe American people are different from the US,” says one student. “We want to make good relationship with all countries,” adds another.

The founder and president is Dr James Chin-Kyung Kim. The 78-year-old Korean-American Christian entrepreneur was invited by the regime to build a university based on a similar one he had opened in northern China.

He raised much of the £20m it cost from American and South Korean Christian charities.

“I am full of thanks to this government – they accepted me. They fully trust me and have given me all authority to operate these schools. Can you believe it?”

It is hard to believe – human rights groups say North Korean citizens found practising Christianity are persecuted.

Inside every classroom, portraits of North Korea’s brutal dictators take pride of place above the whiteboard.

Lecturer Colin McCulloch gives his time for free. Some of the other 40 lecturers are sponsored by Christian charities. Mr McCulloch has moved from Yorkshire to teach business to the regime’s future elite.

He splits the students into groups and tells them to form their own fantasy companies and compile their profit projections.

In a country where the supply of all goods is controlled by the regime, the concept of a free market is new to the students.

“I’m sure the leaders and the government here recognise they need to connect with the outside world,” Mr McCulloch tells us. “It’s not possible to be a totally hermetic, closed economy in the modern age.”

The university’s foreign lecturers are up against a lifetime of propaganda and conditioning – and almost complete isolation from the rest of the world, as we discover when American Erin Fink invites us to take part in her English class.

“It will be good for you to listen to these guys because their accent is very different from my accent – they speak British English,” she explains to her first year undergraduates.

They tell us they like a North Korean girl group called the Moranbong Music Band, one of Kim Jong-un’s latest propaganda tools.

We are learning foreign languages because foreign language is the eye of scientists. Learning a language is learning a culture. I want more of that”

When we mention Michael Jackson, we get a room full of blank faces. We try again.

“Raise your hands if you’ve heard of Michael Jackson.” Not a single arm goes up.

You might have thought students would have found out about Michael Jackson from the Internet – unlike most of North Korea it is available at the university.

But in the computer room a female minder censors all internet access. It is strictly no email, no social media, and no international news.

In North Korea, only absolute devotion to the supreme leader, and praise of all things North Korean, is permitted. According to human rights groups, that devotion is the result of conditioning from birth – and fear of execution or imprisonment in inhumane labour camps.

“The key question is whether the university is training those young Koreans most likely to change the country in a positive way, or those most likely to perpetuate the current regime,” says Greg Scarlatoiu of the Washington-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“If the price to pay for being allowed to establish a presence inside North Korea is ignoring the country’s egregious human rights violations, I will say that price is too high.”

Lord Alton chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea and is a patron of the university.

He hopes the experiment could kick-start more fundamental change and alter the mindset of a generation.

“You have to start somewhere. This isn’t an excuse for appeasement, which I’m totally opposed to.

“This is a form of engagement in order to try and change things.”

But are the students actually interested in embracing change? Even during the guarded conversations that we are allowed, it is clear some students are keen to connect with the outside world.

“We are learning foreign languages because foreign language is the eye of scientists,” says one undergraduate.

“And learning a language is learning a culture. I want more of that.”

Source: BBC, 02.02.2014

Aug 21 '13 - How North Korea got itself hooked on meth

By Max Fisher

A North Korean soldier stands guard along the Chinese border. (GOH CHAI HIN/AFP/Getty Images)

A new study published in the journal North Korean Review says that parts of North Korea are experiencing a crystal meth “epidemic,” with an “upsurge” of recreational meth use and accompanying addiction in the country’s northern provinces.

“Almost every adult in that area [of North Korea] has experienced using ice and not just once,” a study co-author told the Wall Street Journal. “I estimate that at least 40% to 50% are seriously addicted to the drug.”

You might want to treat those sky-high numbers with some skepticism; it’s not clear how the authors could know this with such certainty or how so many North Koreans could get their hands on the drug when so many can’t afford or find basic medicine and when undernourishment remains a serious issue. A 2010 Brookings Institution report found that meth addiction rates were significant and growing but far from this scale. Still, the report is drawing attention to North Korea’s meth problem, which, whatever the scale, is well-documented and an apparently significant problem for the country.

So how do people in North Korea, a country where markets are so tightly regulated that even video CDs can be considered dangerous contraband and where social controls are often beyond Orwellian, manage to get hold of meth? It’s an interesting story, regardless of the scale of drug use today, and one that offers some interesting lessons for how North Korea works.

The problem actually goes back to the 1990s, when North Korea experienced a famine so devastating that virtually the entire world believed that the country would collapse at any moment. But it didn’t, in part because Pyongyang finally decided to open up the world’s most closed economy just a small crack, by allowing a degree of black market trade across North Korea’s border with China. The idea was that the black market would bring in food, which it did, preventing North Korea’s implosion.

The black market trade into China has remained that little bit open ever since, either because Pyongyang authorities can’t close it now or because they see some trade as beneficial, probably both. Some provinces along the border have seen their economies liberalize a tiny, tiny bit — most notably North Hamgyung, which is named in the North Korea Review report as particularly blighted by meth addiction.

In the years after the border with China opened that little crack, two other things have happened that led to the current meth crisis. First, medicine ran out and the once-not-terrible health system collapsed — more on this later. Second, North Korea started manufacturing meth in big state-run labs. The country badly needs hard currency and has almost no legitimate international trade. But it was able to exploit the black market trade across the Chinese border by sending state-made meth into China and bringing back the money of Chinese addicts.

This is where things started to spin out of control for North Korea. The state-run meth factories and the cross-border black market trade started to mingle. And some of that meth ended up migrating back across the border and into North Korea, through the black market trade that brings in Chinese rice and DVDs and the like. It’s possible that some North Korean civilians started making meth on their own domestically, although it’s not clear where they would get the chemicals or the cooking space, and the scale would surely not match that of the state factories. But, either way, the influx of meth into northern North Korean cities was a product of the same barely tolerated black markets that the state allowed to open to fight the famine now almost 20 years ago.

This is where the collapse of the North Korean health system becomes relevant. As Isaac Stone Fish reported in a great 2011 Newsweek story, many regular North Koreans started using meth to treat health problems. Real medicine is extremely scarce in the country. But meth is much more common, which means that the prices of medical drugs are artificially inflated, while the price of meth is artificially low. In a culture without much health education and lots of emphasis on traditional remedies, people were ready to believe that meth would do the trick for their medical problems, and many got addicted.

The meth problem is hard for North Korea to deal with for three reasons: (1) because its health system is ill-equipped, (2) because the state doesn’t want to shut down North Hamgyung’s quasi-liberalized economy but also can’t regulate the black market effectively, and (3) because the country believes it needs to keep making meth and shipping it across the border to bring in hard currency. Meanwhile, North Korean addicts, whatever their numbers, are on their own.

Source: Washington Post, 08.21.2013

Aug 20 '13 - North Korea Grapples With Crystal-Meth Epidemic

By Jason Strother

The 25-year-old North Korean man knew there would be no turning back once he escaped from North Korea across to the Chinese side of the frozen Tumen River. It was February 2009 and he knew he’d need to be swift to avoid detection by the armed North Korean and Chinese border guards.

He says only one thing could give him that clarity—the narcotic crystal meth, or methamphetamine.

“I inhaled about ten hits before I went to the river,” said the man, who now lives in Seoul and asked for his name not to be used. “I felt really focused, all I could think was go, go, go. I didn’t sleep for two days after that.”

Before his defection to South Korea, he says he used the drug, known as “bingdu” or “ice” in the North, off and on for about three years. He says it was easy to score, dealers worked the streets of his hometown of Hamhung, South Hamgyung Province.

A customs signaling disc lies on a table next to 20 kg of the illegal drug crystal meth in Munich, Germany.

The man and his friends would get high together before dinner and the buzz kept them awake all night.

“Doing ice was a social thing; it was a lot of fun,” he said.

North Korea is experiencing a “drug epidemic,” according to a study published in the Spring 2013 edition of the journal North Korea Review.

“A New Face of North Korean Drug Use: Upsurge in Methamphetamine Abuse Across the Northern Areas of North Korea” explains how during the past several years meth production has gone from government-owned factories to privately run underground laboratories and “home kitchens.”

According to the report, it’s not the first time that a drug originally intended for export into China and beyond ended up flooding North Korea’s domestic market.

Throughout the 1990s and into the next decade, opium was the narcotic of choice for both the cash-strapped Kim Jong Il regime and the populace. But by the mid 2000s, the poppy fields began to disappear and meth became pervasive.

As with most details regarding the North, Pyongyang offers no official statistics on the prevalence of illegal drug consumption. The study is the first to attempt to put a number on how widespread the use of crystal meth has become.

“Almost every adult in that area (of North Korea) has experienced using ice and not just once,” says Kim Seok-hyang, who co-authored the study. “I estimate that at least 40% to 50% are seriously addicted to the drug.”

How North Koreans kick their meth habit is unclear. Prof. Kim, a former Unification Ministry official who now lectures at Ewha Womans University, says some of the refugees she interviewed for the study deny that ice is addictive at all.

“They say you can stop it whenever you want. All you need to do is sleep all day long, for three or four days,” she says.

Extreme fatigue, anxiety and depression are effects of methamphetamine withdrawal, say health advocates. And according to some North Korean defectors, addicts back home are using other drugs to help them get clean and cope with the symptoms of coming off ice.

“People who are addicted to ice cannot sleep, so they buy sleeping pills off the black market as a counterbalance to the drug,” says Kim Young-il, who heads the Seoul-based refugee association PSCORE.

Not all North Koreans are able to shake off their dependency on drugs even after making it to South Korea. In a paper entitled “Drug Misuse by North Korean Defectors,” psychiatrist Jeon Jin-young of the Ministry of Unification’s Hanawon resettlement facility writes that self-diagnosis, doctor shopping and abuse of prescription medication, including sleeping pills, is a growing trend within South Korea’s defector community, which numbers more than 25,000.

The Ministry of Unification declined to respond to specific questions regarding drug use or provide a Hanawon doctor to be interviewed for this article.

Prof. Kim says the South Korean government has tried to deal with the issue quietly. “They need to recognize openly how serious the drug issue is and try to find a solution in an open manner,” she said.

As for the 25-year-old defector, he says he never felt addicted to ice and looks back fondly on his experiences getting high with his friends in the North. But like many other things he’s left behind, that aspect of his life stopped at the border.

“I wouldn’t do it again, even if I had the chance,” he says. “My experimenting days are over.”

Source: Washington Post, 08.20.2013

Aug 20 '13 - Torture, starvation, infant execution in N. Korea prison camps exposed to UN panel

A North Korean soldier stands guard on the banks of the Yalu River at the North Korean town of Sinuiju across from the Chinese city of Dandong, in northeastern Liaoning province on April 10,2013.(AFP Photo / Wang Zhao)

Horrifying accounts of human rights abuse in North Korea were described by witnesses to UN Commission of Inquiry. They claim to have survived Gulag-style camps, where public executions, torture and deaths caused by hard work are said to occur regularly.

UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), which was set up this March to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights” in the country, on Tuesday held its panel hearing in Seoul.

Bone-chilling personal accounts of life in North Korean prison camps have for the first time been revealed to the UN team since the start of its work.

The witnesses who testified to the panel included North Korea’s arguably most famous defector, Shin Dong-hyuk – the only known person to have escaped a “total control” internment labor camp.

Shin was born in Camp 14, where political prisoners are forced to work until they die without any chance of release. Around 15,000 people are believed to be doing slave labor in the 155 square kilometer (60 square mile) prison area, which is also known as Kaechon internment camp.

Like the other children at the camp, Shin learned to survive starvation conditions living in bare concrete blocks – and later day-long work out in a field – by catching rats and reporting on others for “rewards.” He said he witnessed death from hard labor, tortures and public executions. The latter included those of his mother and brother, whom he turned in after hearing they were planning an escape.

Michael Kirby (L), chairman of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on North Korea, poses a question to Shin Dong-hyuk (R), a former North Korean defector, during a public hearing at Yonsei university in Seoul August 20, 2013 (Reuters / Kim Hong-Ji)

Michael Donald Kirby, The UN’s chairman of the commission, asked the 30-year-old to describe his own experience of torture in the camp. One such account included a prison guard cutting off Shin’s finger for dropping and breaking a sewing machine.

“I thought my whole hand was going to be cut off at the wrist, so I felt thankful and grateful that only my finger was cut off,” he said, as quoted by Reuters.

Shin himself managed to escape the prison camp in 2005 by climbing over the dead body of his friend, who had tried to scale the high voltage fence. Shin then made his way to China, where he worked as a laborer until he accidentally met up with journalist, Blaine Harden, who recognized the importance of the young man’s story and brought him to South Korea and the US.

After several years of campaigning for shutting down the North Korean prison camps, Shin told American journalist, Anderson Cooper, that he thinks he is “still evolving from an animal to a human.”

North Korean soldiers patrol along the bank of the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju across from the Chinese city of Dandong on April 4, 2013.(AFP Photo / China Out)

The testimonies of some other North Korean ‘Gulag’ survivors suggest Shin was born under a lucky star, as in some of the other camps prison-born babies are said to be killed.

A 34-year-old woman, Jee Heon-a, who was incarcerated in 1999, told the Commission she witnessed a harrowing scene of a mother forced to kill her own newborn by drowning.

“It was the first time I had seen a newborn baby and I felt happy. But suddenly there were footsteps and a security guard came in and told the mother to turn the baby upside down into a bowl of water. The mother begged the guard to spare her, but he kept beating her. So the mother, her hands shaking, put the baby face down in the water. The crying stopped and a bubble rose up as it died,” Jee said.

Unlike Shin, who was raised in a prison camp and got used to its brutalities so much so he still considers it his “home,” Jee was shocked when she arrived to serve her time there.

“Everyone’s eyes were sunken. They all looked like animals. Frogs were hanging from the buttons of their clothes, they were in a plastic bag with their skins peeled,” she described.

Like the other prisoners, Jee also started eating salted frogs in order not to die from malnutrition.

“We were expendables they were keeping as beasts of labor, to get the most out of us before we die,” Shin added.

This Google Maps image published on claims to be showing locations and boundaries of largest North Korean labor camps, including the one known as Camp 14, or Kaechon internment camp.

This is not the first time North Korean defectors, some of whom are survivors of labor and concentration camps, have shared the story of their struggles with an international audience. However, the inquiry at UN level is the first of its kind.

“Because the North Korean people cannot take to arms with guns like Libya and Syria… I personally think this is the first and last hope left,” Shin told the UN panel. “There is a lot for them to cover up, even though they don’t admit to anything.”

Officially, Pyongyang has been strongly denying the very existence of the camps. Following the UN’s decision to carry out the inquiry, So Se Pyong, the North Korean representative at the UN Human Rights Council, has branded the commission a “political instrument… to discredit the image of the DPRK” and warned of “serious consequences” if the inquiry goes ahead.

According to the official, North Korean citizens are “happy with pride and honor that they have one of the best systems for promotion and protection of human rights in the world.”

However, Pyongyang has refused to let any human rights inspectors into the country.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) inspecting a supply base on the east coast under the Korean People’s Army (KPA) Unit 639 at an undisclosed place in North Korea (AFP Photo / KCNA via KNS)

‘A positive step in fighting crimes against humanity’?

Meanwhile, Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have estimated there are up to 200,000 people held in North Korean prison camps. Amnesty’s recent reports based on comparative analysis of satellite images suggest the vast areas of the camps have been expanding in the last few years.

Amnesty has hailed the UN Commission’s work as “a positive step in addressing crimes against humanity.”

“The Commission of Inquiry is a positive step towards addressing the dire human rights situation in North Korea. UN Member States have today sent a clear message to the North Korean authorities that those responsible for crimes against humanity will ultimately be held to account,” Rajiv Narayan, North Korea Researcher for Amnesty International, said.

However, many rights experts believe the inquiry is unlikely to have any immediate impact on the rights situation in North Korea, other than serve to publicize a campaign that has little visibility globally.

“The UN has tried various ways to pressure North Korea over the years in the field of human rights, and this is a way to raise the pressure a bit,” Bill Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in Britain, told Reuters.

“But it’s obvious that North Korea is a tough nut to crack and the UN’s means are limited. There would need to be profound political changes in North Korea to make headway in the field of human rights,” he added.

A screenshot from a video by Amnesty International shows a satellite image of what the group says is the area covered by Yodok political prison camp No. 15.

On its website, the Commission also said it was “not appropriate” as yet to comment on any ICC jurisdiction over potential crimes against humanity because North Korea had not signed the statutes that would enable the court to prosecute.

But some activists believe the inquiry’s findings could play an important role in raising people’s awareness of a country with heavy ideological indoctrination – at least by means of contacts with family members living abroad.

“People living their daily lives here don’t realize how important this is. It will have a tremendously powerful impact across North Korea,” said Kim Sang-hun, chairman of the Seoul-based group Database Center for North Korean Human Rights.

The footage allegedly shows scenes from North Korean Yodok concentration camp, otherwise known as Camp 15.

Source: RT, 08.20.2013

July 27 '13 - Cosmetic change, but no real reform, in North Korea

By Tom Cohen, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Four months ago, North Korea threatened to scrap the 1953 armistice agreement that ended the Korean War and resume hostilities against the United States and South Korea in response to tougher U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after its latest nuclear test.

This week, the famously reclusive dictatorship welcomed a large Western media contingent, including CNN journalists, to cover the 60th anniversary of the armistice.

On Saturday, young leader Kim Jong Un made an unprecedented move when he deliberately walked through the throng of foreign media as he toured a new museum commemorating what North Korea calls its victory in the Korean civil war.

Such a shift in public posturing is common for North Korea, which is known for bellicose threats followed by diplomatic overtures intended to wring desperately needed aid and concessions from the outside world.

Korean war vet returns to North Korea Scars from the Korean War still linger Arirang Festival a reminder of division

“This is just a recurring pattern. Nothing special,” said Kongdan “Katy” Oh, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in East Asia.

The outward appearance of possible change in North Korea under Kim after decades of secretive dictatorship comes amid strained relations with its powerful neighbor and benefactor, China.

It followed followed Xi Jinping’s ascendancy to power in China, which essentially props up North Korea through its economic ties and aid.

Since Xi became head of the ruling Communist Party last November, Beijing has signaled growing impatience with Pyongyang’s tactics.

In March, less than a week before Xi also became president, China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in backing tougher sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear test in February.

The sanctions prompted the war threats by North Korea and test-firing of missiles, raising tension on the Korean peninsula.

Oh explained that China was angry with Kim for a December satellite launch in violation of U.N. resolutions that raised regional tensions during Xi’s transition to power. The February nuclear test further exacerbated China’s anger, she said.

Before Xi headed to the United States for a trip that included a June meeting with President Barack Obama, North Korea sent an envoy to China who got treated “like cold rice,” according to Oh.

Kurt Campbell, who recently served as U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told CNN before the Xi-Obama meeting that the Chinese “have just about had it with North Korea.

“They recognize that the steps that they have taken — nuclear provocations — are creating the context for more military activities on the part of the United States and other countries that ultimately are not in China’s best strategic interests,” Campbell said then.

However, Oh dismissed any chance that China would use its leverage to try to force reforms in North Korea, saying the history and structure of the military backed dictatorship made it impossible for Kim to undo the legacy of this father and grandfather.

The satellite launch in December and nuclear test in February were Kim’s way of establishing his leadership with the military, on which his power depends, Oh explained. She likened North Korea to an impoverished African dictatorship that happened to have nuclear weapons.

Now, with chronic food shortages exacerbated in the months before the harvest, Kim is putting on what Oh called “an early summer charm offensive” to ensure his regime gets all the aid and economic benefit available from China and others.

That means allowing in the Western media for the armistice commemoration events and reportedly signaling support for resuming long-suspended six-party talks on curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program.

In addition, recent visits from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt and former U.S. basketball star Dennis Rodman have boosted North Korea’s popularity as a travel destination.

Tour operators say a record number of foreigners were coming to this year’s Arirang Festival, a seven-week celebration of gymnastics and music that began Monday at Pyongyang’s May Day Stadium.
To Oh, it amounts to cosmetic changes rather than anything close to real reform.

On Friday, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported that Kim supported China’s call for resuming the six-party talks with the United States, South Korea and others.

According to Xinhua, Kim’s backing for more six-party talks came after he met with Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao, the highest-level Chinese official to visit North Korea since Kim took power in 2011 after the death of his father, longtime dictator Kim Jong Il.

However, a report on Li’s visit by the North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency made no mention of his call for resuming the nuclear talks or Kim’s supporting it.

Source: CNN, 07.27.2013

July 5 '13 - Park Sang Hak: North Korea's 'Enemy Zero'

Sending balloons aloft with leaflets and memory sticks, a dissident enrages Pyongyang. South Korea isn’t too happy with him either.

By David Feith

Paju, South Korea

It’s nerve-racking to drive toward the North Korean border with Park Sang Hak. Called “Fireball” by his admirers, the North Korean-born Mr. Park is designated “Enemy Zero” by the Pyongyang regime, which two years ago sent an agent into South Korea to assassinate him with a poison-tipped pen. On this summer morning, he promises to do again what so infuriates the Kim dictatorship—launch large balloons into North Korea carrying leaflets, computer-memory sticks and sweets for the oppressed people of the hermit kingdom.

In return, Pyongyang promises to “physically eliminate the kind of human scum that commits such treason.” Adds the North Korean military: “The U.S. and the present puppet authorities of South Korea should not forget even a moment that the Rimjin Pavilion”—Mr. Park’s favorite launch site near the Demilitarized Zone separating the two countries—”is within the range of direct sighting strike” of the Korean People’s Army.

North Korean threats are generally discounted as bluster, but driving toward the border has a way of concentrating the mind. The highway from the South carries little traffic in either direction and is separated from the Imjin River by barbed-wire fences, guard towers and civil-defense loudspeakers.

Yet once we arrive at the balloon-launch site, it becomes clear that Mr. Park has a different antagonist to contend with: South Korea, which has deployed a few hundred police to stop his airborne humanitarian mission. The police let him speak to assembled local media, but when Mr. Park tries to retrieve his balloons from a pickup truck, three rows of plainclothes officers block the way. Mr. Park tries to push through, but the police push back. When he tries to drive the truck slowly through the cordon to a different launch site, a large scuffle breaks out.

Shoving matches pit uniformed and plainclothes police against Mr. Park and fellow activists—most of whom, like him, are native North Koreans who defected to the South sometime in the past 15 years. The most recent defectors wear handkerchiefs to cover their faces, because their identification in photos could mean imprisonment or execution for family members left behind. The grim, chaotic scene ends when Mr. Park is shoved into a police car and driven to the Paju Police Station.

He is released later that day, but not without a reinforced sense that something is rotten in one of the world’s most prosperous democracies. “Launching balloons is legal activism that I can do as a free citizen,” he tells me (through an interpreter) when we meet again two days later. But his arrest shows that “the threatening and blackmailing by the North Korean regime work well in the international community.” And especially in Seoul, he argues, where successive South Korean governments have played down the catastrophic human-rights abuses across the border.

To be born in North Korea is generally a life sentence in the world’s cruelest totalitarian state. There is no freedom of speech or worship. North Koreans can’t travel without official permission, and border guards have shoot-to-kill orders for anyone trying to flee. More than 200,000 languish in kwalliso, political prisons akin to Stalin’s gulag, where more than one million have died. Almost no one owns a car, only about 10% of apartments have refrigerators, and some 10% of the population died of starvation in the mid-1990s. The average 7-year-old is 8 inches shorter and 22 pounds lighter than peers in South Korea.

Mr. Park is one of roughly 25,000 North Koreans to escape and get to the South, and his balloon launches aim to break the information monopoly held by the Kim family. In addition to praising the South’s liberal democracy, the leaflets reveal unflattering truths about Pyongyang’s rulers, such as Kim Il Sung’s craving for mistresses during his reign from 1948-94. The digital memory sticks inform North Koreans about the world, including “people power” movements and life inside South Korea as captured by news articles, movies and (especially) soap operas.

The idea, says Mr. Park, is that even in North Korea “the truth can set you free”—but only if you have access to it. “We don’t want the South Korean government or the U.S. government to start a war,” he says. “What we’re waiting for is to change the [Pyongyang] regime by the hands of North Koreans who are educated with the truth. . . . That’s the only way we can give freedom to the 24 million people in North Korea.”

This strategy of pursuing regime change from within was explicitly rejected by South Korean leaders during the “Sunshine Policy” years of 1998-2008. Seoul believed that Kim Il Sung’s successor, his son Kim Jong Il, would lose interest in nuclear weapons and loosen his grip at home if he saw that no outside forces were working to oust his regime. So South Korean presidents feted him at summits, gave him economic benefits, and ignored human rights.

“Sunshine” didn’t stop North Korea’s nuclear drive, and South Korean voters have since rejected it twice at the polls. But five years of conservative leadership in Seoul haven’t made life easier for Mr. Park, who can’t recall whether his latest arrest is number seven or eight.

“South Koreans like saying that we are all in the same family, same ethnic group, we share the culture—but they’re just saying that, not really feeling it or believing it,” he says. “Many South Korean people think that when the Koreas are unified, they will have to take all the economic burden for developing North Korea, which is deprived and underdeveloped, so will have to pay more taxes for that.”

Mr. Park has little sympathy for this dollars-and-cents concern, even as he acknowledges South Korea’s efforts to resettle 25,000 defectors, including him and his family. “The GDP of South Korea is $23,000 per person,” he notes. “After reunification, after the North Korean regime collapses, the North Korean people will come and see this affluence and they’re going to ask you, ‘What did you do when we were suffering back in North Korea?’ What kind of answer should we give to them?”

The problem is visible, says Mr. Park, in how South Korean journalists report on North Korea’s new dictator. “They mention Kim Jong Un even more than North Korean media,” he says, sounding incredulous and adding that reporters in the South speak of Pyongyang as if it were a normal government, not a totalitarian tyranny. “They call Kim Jong Un by his formal names. . . . It’s like calling Hitler by his full rank and title, to pay respect.”

Park Sang Hak was born in 1968 into the elite of North Korean society. His father was a senior official in the Workers’ Party with responsibility for smuggling computer technology into North Korea from Japan and elsewhere. The work earned Mr. Park’s father riches—large amounts of U.S. currency, an Omega watch from “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, even a Mercedes-Benz—and eventually a promotion into the intelligence directorate responsible for sending spies into South Korea. But he decided to defect in 1999, while stationed in Tokyo, telling his family that with North Koreans starving to death, to aid the Kim regime was a crime against the people.

The younger Mr. Park didn’t want to leave, since at age 31 he was a rising bureaucrat on the make. “I knew that within a few years I was going to be a member of the Party, which is really prestigious. I didn’t even serve in the military—which is allowed only for elites—but I still got the membership.” He owned a car, an imported Toyota. “I blamed my father for abandoning his faith in communism and becoming a capitalist,” he recalls.

But over a two-month period, as he listened to a taped message sent secretly by his father, young Mr. Park began to see things differently. “I felt for the first time that I wasn’t working for people but rather reigning over people,” he says. “I felt like a criminal. I felt guilty for spending a lot of money and having a luxurious life based on the efforts and miserable lives of ordinary citizens.”

On Aug. 9, 1999, he, his mother and two siblings defected across the Yalu River into China, having pleased the border guards with 10 times the usual bribe.

Once in South Korea, Mr. Park didn’t immediately take up the anti-Pyongyang cause, working instead at Seoul National University. His spur to activism came in 2003, when he learned that as a result of his family’s defection, the regime had tortured his uncles to death. His cousins had become street beggars, and to this day he doesn’t know if they are alive. “After I learned of that,” he says, “I had to stand up and do something.”

By 2008, Mr. Park was meeting in New York with President George W. Bush, whom he credits with bringing his work to international attention. No president of South Korea has ever met with Mr. Park.

Still, he has some gripes with the U.S., especially the Bush administration’s 2008 decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. But Mr. Park doesn’t fault Americans for thinking of North Korea more as a nuclear threat than a human-rights violator. For that he blames South Korea: “If your house is on fire, and you don’t care much about it and run away, you can’t expect other people to extinguish it for you.”

Mr. Park notes that South Korea’s president visited China this week without publicly pressing Beijing to stop repatriating defectors to North Korea, where they face imprisonment or worse. In Washington, meanwhile, North Korea remains off the terror-sponsor list, and U.S. officials want to resume negotiations with the Kim regime. “They’re going to deceive you again and again and again,” Mr. Park warns.

At least he offers some consolation as our conversation ends: Most of his balloon launches take place in secret—without advance notice or the glare of cameras—so the South Korean authorities let them proceed. Thus 30 to 40 times a year, when wind conditions are favorable and donors provide sufficient funds, Mr. Park launches 200,000 leaflets northward toward the hermit kingdom. Each one is considered a threat by Pyongyang. No regime so fragile can last forever.

Source: Wall Street Journal, 07.05.2013

July 1 '13 - Rapid Rotation of North Korea’s Border Guards Hampering Defections

(An armed soldier patrols the banks of the Yalu River along the border with China in Sinuiju, North Korea, April 10, 2013.)

North Korea has been more frequently changing the guards posted along its border with China in order to prevent corruption, making it harder for would-be defectors to escape, according to a source in the reclusive country.

Border guards’ location assignments used to be changed once per year, but this year the guards near the border town of Musan in North Hamgyong province have already been changed twice in six months, a source in the city said.

“A few days ago, a border garrison under the 27th Brigade was changed in the middle of the night. The border garrison has changed twice this year,” he told RFA’s Korean Service last week, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The rapid rotation of border guard garrisons such as last week’s change is making it harder for brokers to work with border guards to arrange defectors’ escapes, restricting the number of North Koreans attempting to flee the country, he said.

“Brokers who help North Korean defectors can’t establish cozy relationships with border guards because of the short terms of their assignments,” he said.

He said the guards had been changed more frequently since the country’s leader Kim Jong Un took power after his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il’s death in December 2011.

“When Kim Jong Il was alive, border guards would stay at the same spot for about a year. But now, under the rule of Kim Jong Un … the border guards’ assignments are more frequently changed.”

Fewer defectors arriving in South

Most refugees from the isolated, totalitarian country escape across the border with China before eventually making their way to South Korea via third countries.

But tighter border controls since the death of Kim Jong Il have shrunken the flow of defectors arriving in the South, the South Korean government has said.

Many of the refugees made their way out of the North by relying on brokers who bribe border guards to turn a blind eye.

Curbing bribes

A defector who used to work as a North Korean border guard before leaving the country told RFA that switching the locations of border guards frequently would curb such back-door dealings by preventing the soldiers from having enough time to get to know the local terrain and brokers in the area.

The assignment changes can be made suddenly from the top, without any way for the information to leak out ahead of time, he said.

“When it is approved by the General Bureau of Border Security, a brigade directly orders each company [without giving any notice to division and battalion], and then, in 24 hours, the companies are rotated.”

“Until the change is made, there is no way to know it is happening,” he said.

To prevent North Koreans from defecting from the country, brigades have systems in place to encourage border guards to report defectors, including incentives such as recommendations for entering college or joining the Korean Workers’ Party, he said.

Tough escapes

In January, Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for relations with the North, reported that in 2012 there had been a significant decrease in the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea, with just over 1,500 arriving that year compared to more than 2,700 in 2011.

It was the first time the figure had fallen below 2,000 since 2006, according to Yonhap news agency quoting the Unification Ministry.

The trend of fewer defectors has continued through the beginning of this year, with a nearly 10 percent decrease on defectors arriving in the first three months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, the Ministry reported in April, according to Yonhap.

Another defector, who has been trying to secure his relatives’ flight from North Korea, said that making connections with border guards is crucial to arranging an escape and that doing so has become difficult in recent years.

“I have been struggling to bring out my family in North Korea since last year. As I don’t have any connections with any border guards, it’s a really bleak prospect,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Nowadays, helping people escape from North Korea is really tough, even if you have enough money.”

Reported by Jung Young for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 07.01.2013

June 12 '13 - Hard Life for North Korean Orphans in China

(Young North Korean defectors hold placards denouncing China’s policy of repatriating refugees from their country at a protest outside Beijing’s embassy in Seoul on Feb. 26, 2012.)

The recent deportation by Laos of nine orphaned North Korean defectors back to their country has thrown the spotlight on the plight of parentless North Korean children who escape a life of hardship to China as they seek opportunities to resettle in a third country.

They are often forced to live like animals in caves and beg for food after fleeing across the border to China where they stay hidden from the authorities and find themselves eking out a threadbare existence, according to a defector living in South Korea.

“The orphans are really poor children. In China, they must beg during the daytime and sleep in caves at night,” Kim Jin-myeong, who lost his parents at a young age and lived in China before making his way to South Korea, told RFA’s Korean Service.

Kim said he knew the group of orphans who were forcibly repatriated to North Korea from Laos last month, having met them in China before they fled across the border to the Southeast Asian nation.

Laos said it had handed the nine North Korean defectors directly to the North Korean Embassy without having their asylum claims assessed, putting them at risk of being severely punished.

China, North Korea’s strongest ally, does not recognize defectors as asylum seekers and has been known to return them to Pyongyang, where they can face harsh punishment and even execution.

Kim said that most North Korean orphans traveled across the border to China from the northernmost provinces of Yanggang and North Hamgyeong, seeking food. He said they often gather and live together.

“I made a home by myself,” he said. “There are many ‘nameless’ mountains in China, so I would make use of a cave in the ravine behind a town.”

“If I was found out by police, I moved and slept in another ‘house’.”

Cave living

Also born in Yanggang province, Kim stopped attending school at a young age and fled to China after his father died of a heart attack and his mother succumbed to a terminal illness.

While begging in China, he met other homeless orphans from North Korea, and together they learned to survive on their own.

Kim said members of his group got the idea to make their home in remote valleys and mountain ranges based on stories they had heard growing up about North Korean founder Kim Il Sung repelling Japanese invasion forces.

“In a cave, up to 20 people can stay and live,” he said.

“Many of our cave dwellings likely still exist because they were camouflaged so well.”

Eventually, Kim said, he separated from his friends, making his way through the Chinese cities of Shenyang in Liaoning province and Beijing, before continuing on to Thailand and finally settling in South Korea.

Repatriated nine

Kim said that he was grateful to have found freedom, but lamented the fact that some of his friends had been caught during their defection bid in Laos.

“One of the young North Koreans is my good friend. I remember giving him food once after he was beaten while begging,” Kim said, adding that the two had met in China before becoming “scattered.”

“I feel sad that I can’t even mention his real name because of his safety,” he said, citing fears for his friend’s well-being in North Korea.

Laos said it had also deported two South Koreans caught together with the nine North Koreans, accusing the duo of human trafficking.

The 11 were detained by police in Oudomxay province bordering China, according to the Lao authorities.

The Red Cross of North Korea had also condemned the South Koreans, saying they were discovered in Laos while trying to kidnap the orphans.

Kim rejected claims that the South Koreans were human traffickers, saying the two were missionaries that had helped the orphans in China by providing them with food and shelter.

He also criticized the media for broadcasting the names and faces of the orphans, saying it was “harmful to the defectors,” though he acknowledged that doing so “could help to pressure the North Korean government from the outside.”

Close to 25,000 North Koreans have come to South Korea since the end of the Korean War. The vast majority of them had hidden in China and Southeast Asian countries including Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam before flying to Seoul.

Reported by Young Jung for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 06.12.2013

June 2 '13 - Outcry over young North Korean refugees handed back to regime by Laos

by Jethro Mullen, CNN

(A Christmas 2011 photo shows North Korean youth refugees, nine of whom were handed last week to North Korean authorities.)

The nine young North Koreans thought they were near the end of their long and dangerous journey toward freedom.

Their years-long odyssey had taken them thousands of miles, from North Korea, one of the world’s most repressive states, to Laos, a small, landlocked nation in Southeast Asia. From there, they just needed to cross the border into Thailand and find their way to South Korean diplomats who would be able to offer them citizenship and a new life.

But something went wrong in Laos. They were detained by the authorities. And rather than transferring the group of young refugees to South Korean officials, as the people engineering their escape were anticipating, the Laotian government this week did something unexpected.

It gave them back to North Korea.

“This is a horrible, horrible thing that has happened,” said Suzanne Scholte, the president of the Defense Forum Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that was involved in the effort to get the young North Koreans to safety.

The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, says Laos deported the group of North Koreans to China on Monday. And Scholte said Friday that she believes they have already been flown back to North Korea, where she fears they could face torture or even death.

Human rights advocates and UNHCR have criticized the decision by Laos to deport the refugees, who are between 15 and 23 years old, noting that international law gives people the right not to be forced to return to places where they face persecution.

Thousands of North Koreans have fled their country’s Stalinist regime since the Korean War in the 1950s and settled in South Korea, which offers them citizenship. Most of them make their way there through China and Southeast Asia.

Until they were detained by Laotian authorities earlier this month, it appears the group of young North Koreans traced a path similar to that of many other refugees.

Years ago, they slipped through the authoritarian grip of their homeland and crossed the border into China, most likely with their various parents.

Scholte said that in China, one or way another, they all ended up fending for themselves on the streets, eating out of trash bins and dodging North Korean agents. She said she didn’t know whether their parents had abandoned them, died or been detained and sent back to North Korea.

They were plucked from that precarious existence by a South Korean man and his wife who were living in China, Scholte said, referring to the man only by the name of “M.J.” to protect his identity.

M.J. and his wife took in a total of 15 young North Koreans, giving them food, shelter and protection for more than four years. To avoid getting caught, the youngsters had to remain inside at all times.

Brainwashed by North Korea Adjusting to life outside North Korea North Korean dissident celebrates

“You could liken it to a Jewish family trying to hide from the Nazis,” Scholte said. “They had to be invisible.”

China doesn’t treat North Koreans in its territory as refugees and usually sends them back across the border.

In 2011, the Defense Forum Foundation began working with M.J. and his wife to try get the group of North Koreans out of China to South Korea or the United States.

They managed to get the three oldest North Koreans to safety in South Korea via Thailand, Scholte said. Next, they succeeded in organizing the escape of the two youngest children and one with learning difficulties to the United States.

Nine others remained in China. M.J. and his wife accompanied them on the quest to reach South Korea via Laos and Thailand.

They reportedly entered Laos around May 10 and were detained soon after that. At the time, Laotian authorities assured M.J. and his wife, who were not being held, that there was nothing to worry about, Scholte said.

“We had no reason to believe that the Laotians were going to cut some deal with North Korea,” she said, noting that she had helped to get four other North Koreans to the United States from Laos in 2009.

But on Monday, she said, M.J. received word that the group of refugees was being taken to the North Korean Embassy. By then, it was too late to save them.

“When I got the call, I was in shock,” Scholte said.

Other organizations also were surprised by the development.

Laos has been one of the main routes to a safe country for North Korean defectors, according to Eun Young Kim, a senior program officer
with the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization based in Seoul.

“We never officially experienced the Laotian government actually cooperating with the North Korean government and sending them back to North Korea,” she said. “This is a very surprising, alarming case, especially the fact that the North Korean government got involved.”

It was unclear what prompted the decision by Laos to give the refugees to the North Koreans.

Laotian government officials in the country’s capital, Vientiane, declined to provide official comment on the matter when contacted by CNN on Friday.

But Khantivong Somlith, an official at the Laotian Embassy in Seoul, said that the refugees had been handed over to North Korea because they didn’t have visas and were therefore in Laos illegally.

“We know they are Koreans, that’s why they were sent back to the North Korean Embassy,” he said. “That’s the rule.”
He said he didn’t know where the refugees are now.

South Korean officials have been criticized in their country’s news media as having failed to act quickly and decisively enough to get the North Koreans out of Laos after their detention.

But Scholte said that all those involved in the attempt to recover the refugees had “underestimated” the North Koreans’ determination to get hold of them. She noted the efforts of South Korea in previous successful operations to rescue North Koreans. “We haven’t seen this before,” she said.

The South Korean government has declined to discuss the specifics of this case.

“We’ve expressed our government’s position to the relevant nation and we have also consulted on future measures,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said in a news briefing Thursday.

After reaching a peak of nearly 3,000 in 2009, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped to just above 1,500 in 2012,
according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.

International organizations, meanwhile, are raising concerns about what fate awaits the deported refugees.

“North Korea has to come clean on where these nine refugees are and publicly guarantee that they will not be harmed or retaliated against for having fled the country,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. “As a result of their return they are at dire risk — North Korea criminalizes unauthorized departures and is known to torture those caught trying to escape and those sent back.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern “about the safety and fundamental human rights of these individuals if they are returned” to North Korea.

M.J. and his wife, herself a former North Korean refugee, are now back in South Korea and remain very upset about what happened, Scholte says.

“This is a couple that was willing to risk their own life and safety to shelter these children,” she said.

Source: BBC, 06.02.2013

May 28 '13 - Laos Deports Nine North Korean Defectors to China

(Young North Korean defectors hold placards denouncing China’s policy of repatriating refugees from their country at a protest outside Beijing’s embassy in Seoul on Feb. 26, 2012.)

Laos has deported nine North Korean defectors to China after rejecting a plea by Seoul to send them to South Korea, according to officials Tuesday.

The defectors, who had fled their country to the Southeast Asian nation via China last month, are all orphans in their teens and early twenties, one nongovernmental organization said.

The deportation raises fears that Beijing will repatriate the defectors to North Korea, where they are likely to face harsh punishment.

The nine were put on a plane to China late Monday after being rounded up in Laos on May 10, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported.

The report quoted a South Korean foreign ministry official as saying that Seoul had asked that the defectors be sent to South Korea instead, but Laos had “unexpectedly” rejected the request.

A representative of a civil society organization in Laos familiar with the case said several North Koreans, possibly diplomats, were on board the flight to China with the defectors.

The defectors—seven men and two women—are between 15 and 22 years old, according to the representative, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

South Korea sets up task force

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se confirmed the plane had landed in China and said his ministry has set up a task force to handle the case, according to Yonhap.

In a regular press briefing on Tuesday, the ministry’s spokesman Cho Tai-young declined to comment on the case, but said Seoul “has continued to make efforts with relevant countries to bring North Korean defectors” to South Korea.

Rights groups in South Korea expressed dismay at the deportation, urging an all-out effort by Seoul to prevent Beijing from repatriating the nine to North Korea.

Kim Young-ja, director of the Seoul-based group North Korean Human Rights, said the deportation could signal stepped-up efforts by North Korean authorities to prevent citizens from passing through Southeast Asian countries.

“North Korean authorities have been making a lot of efforts to prevent North Koreans from escaping the country,” she told RFA’s Korean Service.

“North Korean authorities tightly control the border with China even on the Chinese side. Now, they are trying to block the Southeast Asian escape routes.”

Laos and other Southeast Asian countries are a common transit country for North Korean defectors who escape their homeland via China with the aim of eventually resettling in South Korea.

China considers the tens of thousands of North Koreans hiding in its borders as illegal economic migrants rather than asylum-seekers, and routinely deports them back to North Korea despite protests by rights groups.

Rights groups say the returnees face severe punishments, including the death sentence.

Reported by Songwu Park and Hee Jung Yang for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Bong Park. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 05.28.2013

May 13 '13 - U.S. law aimed at helping North Korean orphans

By Madison Park, CNN

(This photo inside a North Korean orphanage was taken in 2012 by a representative of the relief group Mercy Corps.)

North Korean orphans who make it to South Korea could be considered relatively lucky. They are provided an education, a path to South Korean citizenship and even a chance at adoption.

But many North Korean children do not have similar opportunities. Some are in orphanages in their homeland; others make it out of North Korea, only to find themselves stateless and in hiding in China or other countries.

In January, President Obama signed into law a measure designed to help these children. The North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012 calls for the U.S. State Department to advocate for the “best interests” of North Korean children.

This includes helping reunite family members who’ve escaped North Korea, as well as facilitating adoption for North Korean children living outside their homeland without parental care.

But it could be years before Americans are able to adopt any of these children.

The act does not lay out a roadmap for making adoptions or family reunions possible. Rather, it tasks the State Department with making regular reports to Congress on challenges facing North Korean children and developing a strategy to address them.

“Hundreds of thousands of North Korean children suffer from malnutrition in North Korea,” the act reads, and many of them “may face statelessness in neighboring countries.”

Orphaned and homeless: Surviving the streets of North Korea

Most North Korean defectors escape to neighboring China, which has a policy of sending those who are caught back to their home country. The consequences of repatriation can include imprisonment in North Korea and, in some cases, the death penalty, according to human
rights activists.

Some North Korean children escape to China after losing their parents, while others become orphans after crossing the border if their parents die or are sent back to North Korea. The orphans often live in hiding because of fears that they’ll be repatriated.

“The last estimate we heard was 20,000,” said Arthur Han of Han-Schneider International Children’s Foundation, an organization for disadvantaged children based in Montebello, California.

“That number is not accurate because these orphans are in hiding and there’s no way to get an accurate number.”

Han’s father, Sam Han, grew up as an orphan in South Korea and lobbied to get the law passed beginning in 2010. The elder Han had been concerned about the welfare of such children after visiting orphanages in North Korea, his son said. His father died in 2012 from cancer.

The North Korean Child Welfare Act tasks the State Department and the House Foreign Affairs Committee with devising strategies to “safely bring these kids out of hiding in these neighboring countries, into the U.S. or into international homes,” Han said. “This bill initiates a process, sets a committee, so a plan can be implemented.”

Several prospective parents have already asked Han whether they could adopt a North Korean child.

“I have to tell them it’s a few years out before we have a chance to adopt a North Korean child,” Han said. “From what we’ve heard, we’re looking at minimum one to three years before a plan is strategized and implemented.”

Meanwhile, the law has garnered criticism, especially from Christine Hong, an assistant professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, who said the wording of the measure is troubling.

“I don’t think this is going to have an effect of an open season of baby scooping,” she said. “One of the dangers is it states that the State Department has to elaborate protocol and it makes it possible for U.S. citizens to be able to adopt stateless children, not just from North Korea or China, but from around the world. It’s one of the dangerous precedents — it’s a very loose and fast language.”

Last fall, Hong penned a critique of the bill on the website 38North.

In addition to North Korean orphans, the law also refers to children with one North Korean parent — many of whom are born in China from a Chinese-North Korean relationship. Because of the illegal status of North Koreans in China, such children may not be recognized
by China or North Korea, rendering them stateless. Also, they may not have proper registration in China, which is crucial for social services and education, according to human rights organizations.

But Hong said the law is based on outdated premises, and that the discrimination and barriers to services for children born of North Korean-Chinese relationships have greatly improved.

The new law also calls for the State Department to work with the South Korean government to establish pilot programs to assist in the family reunification of North Korean children.

The South Korean government’s Ministry of Unification wrote in an e-mail to CNN: “If the U.S. government makes a detailed proposal regarding this pilot project in the future, we can decide on whether we will go on with the project after examining various factors.”

Source: CNN, 05.13.2013

May 5 '13 - Former Defectors Work for Change in North Korea

By Peter Slavin

(Jo Jin Hye enters a building at Annandale High School in Virginia where she attends night high school for adults.)

For a long time, Jo Jin Hye led two lives. Most people knew her as a home health-care manager living outside Washington D.C., or as a night student at a high school for adults.

But she had also become one of the United States’ leading activists for human rights in North Korea, her native country. She is called night and day by North Koreans half a world away in desperate need of advice, contacts, or money.

“Sometimes,” she says, “I am on the phone from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., when defectors are attempting an escape.”

These defectors are beginning a journey that Jo Jin Hye, now 25, began at age 10 with her mother Han Song Hwa and younger sister Jo Eun Hye, also called Grace Jo, in 1998 amid a famine in North Korea’s Hamgyeong Province, on the Chinese border.

Their escape followed the loss of half their family. Jo Jin Hye’s grandmother and newborn brother died of starvation, her older sister disappeared after setting out for China in search of food, and her father was tortured by security agents after crossing the border and bringing back a sack of rice. He died while in prison.

The family were labeled “anti-state traitors” for entering China, and police and men from the Bowibu, the National Security Agency, threatened to burn down their house if they did not leave their village.

Her mother fled with Jo Jin Hye for the border, carrying seven-year-old Grace Jo, who was malnourished, in a sack on her back. They walked for three days and nights before holding hands and wading through the waist-high currents of the Tumen River into China.

But Han had no way to bring her five-year-old son and had left him with neighbors, promising to return for him in five days. The person she later hired in China to fetch him reported that the little boy had been put out by their neighbors, who were famished and didn’t have enough to feed another mouth.

The boy had wandered into a nearby field, crying out, “Mommy, sister! When are you coming back?” He, too, succumbed to starvation.

Struggle to survive

Once in China, Han and her daughters struggled to survive and evade deportation back to North Korea. China ignores international law prohibiting the forced repatriation of refugees, presumably fearing that if they accept any North Koreans, this will trigger a flood.

The Jo-Han family spent much of the next 10 years living as fugitives in China.

“We kept getting arrested, separated, and united again,” Jo Jin Hye said. “We … waited for each other in places where we knew we could establish contact.”

They were repeatedly caught, jailed, and sent back to North Korea, where they were sometimes imprisoned and tortured.

“I was slapped until my face was swollen,” said Jo Jin Hye. “They pulled my hair so hard that my head was half-bald.”

Eventually they would be released and, by paying bribes, flee across the river again.

While in China, both sisters were jailed at one point for 15 months for helping other North Korean defectors. Both were also repatriated, usually separately—Grace Jo twice and Jo Jin Hye four times. Their mother was also repatriated four times.

Whenever they were caught by Chinese police, Han and Jo Jin Hye would swallow money wrapped in plastic for later use in North Korea.

Somehow, after these long periods of separation, Han always found her daughters. Jo Jin Hye herself once spent three months tracking down her younger sister.

Whenever they could, they would resume living together in China until one or more of them was arrested again. Grace Jo lived in constant fear that her mother would suddenly disappear.

Help from others

Grace Jo wound up living with several Chinese families who were ethnic Koreans. Once she became a teenager, Jo Jin Hye was on her own for part of the time. She turned for help to the friends of people she got to know in North Korean prisons and labor camps.

Eventually the family was befriended by Pastor Philli Buck, a Christian missionary who was Korean-American. At one point he looked after them for a year.

Both sisters became fluent in Chinese, and Grace Jo got a little schooling. But like her mother, Jo Jin Hye—being older—always had to work. She would earn money in one restaurant until the police came to check papers, and would then run away to find work at another.

From time to time, she would find her mother and Grace Jo and give them some of her wages.

The family survived by their wits until they were aided by the underground railroad that smuggles North Korean refugees from China to welcoming countries.

In 2006, after Han and her daughters had been repatriated once again to North Korea and were in Bowibu custody, they expected to be publicly executed or sent to a camp for political prisoners after admitting they were Christians, knew American missionaries, and had helped other defectors try to reach South Korea.

Pastor Buck quickly raised U.S. $10,000 from American congregations and offered it through brokers to Bowibu agents for the family’s freedom. As a result, the three were charged with misdemeanors rather than serious crimes, and after promising high-level Bowibu officers they would remain in North Korea, they were released.

They had no intention of keeping their promise.

From China to America

Pastor Buck then arranged for brokers to get them out of North Korea and to Beijing, where the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees gave them lodging and protection. Finally, after more than a year, they were granted asylum in the United States.

Two months after they arrived, Jo Jin Hye and other refugees were invited to meet with then President George W. Bush. She then staged a hunger strike in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington to protest Beijing’s forced repatriation of North Korean refugees.

After 16 days, she was hospitalized. Her strike did help draw attention to the issue, but China’s policy did not change.

Like many other refugees, the Jo-Hans had their share of hard times in the United States, including a short spell of homelessness after their landlord, who rented them two rooms in his house, became intolerable. He had imposed a curfew and was unreasonable about their taking showers.

They finally left. The landlord refused to give them back their belongings, and they had to go to the police to recover them.

In addition, like other North Koreans, they were treated as inferior by some Korean-Americans. But today they have two cars, a suburban apartment, and jobs in home health care. Jo Jin Hye and Grace Jo are A-students and have professional ambitions.

Somehow, the traumatic events they suffered in North Korea during the famine and following their deportations have never thrown them off their stride.

A number of Americans and Korean-Americans have also stepped forward to aid and befriend the family. A Korean pastor has been a mentor to them even after they moved and changed churches. A former Clinton administration official gives them legal advice, two Korean interpreters have helped them in public appearances, and several individuals have tutored the sisters in their studies.

Members of their two Korean-American churches have lent a hand in many ways.

‘The right connections’

Both financially and culturally, observers agree, the family has fared unusually well in comparison with the other 150 or so North Koreans living in the United States.

Greg Scarlatoiu, director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, based in Washington, cites their hard work, friendly personalities, and good fortune in having made “the right connections here.”

Their mentor, Pastor Heemoon Lee, also notes that unlike most North Koreans, who come alone, they had the great advantage of having arrived together as a family. Moreover, Lee adds, their deep Christian faith has bolstered them and helped connect them to the Korean-American community.

Living underground in China for so many years no doubt also schooled them in how to deal with adversity.

Jo Jin Hye did something unusual while chasing the American dream—she founded a small nonprofit organization called NKUS to help other North Koreans escape and to support fellow refugees in the United States.

Her mother and sister pitch in, and NKUS now has more than a dozen supporters: Americans, Koreans, and nine other defectors.

“Despite all they experienced, which would make you want to leave it all behind, they instead are so committed to helping their brothers and sisters here in the USA, rescuing refugees out of China, and helping bring about change in North Korea,” said Suzanne Scholte, chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, in an e-mailed comment.

Through NKUS, the family has already been instrumental in helping at least six defectors in China reach a third country. NKUS also recently sponsored a church benefit concert in a Washington suburb that drew 300 people and raised $3,000.

The proceeds were intended to smuggle a female defector’s two nephews out of North Korea before they could be sent to prison as a punishment for her defection. The concert featured North Korean pianist Kim Cheol Woong, who defected in 2001.

The Jo-Han family finances NKUS by selling Korean food at church bazaars and festivals and by donating most of the money they receive for public speaking. Jo and her mother speak about oppression in North Korea at churches and universities all over the United States and in South Korea, and have both testified before Congress.

Outspoken and blunt, they are determined that others know what is happening to the people of North Korea. Few others in the United States can speak about that firsthand.

Peter Slavin is a U.S.-based freelance journalist.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 05.05.2013

April 22 '13 - North Korea: Defectors adjust to life abroad

by Stephanie Hegarty, BBC

Life inside North Korea’s closed borders is hard to imagine. One of the only insights into how ordinary people live, beyond the official line of the regime, comes from those who have escaped. Two defectors, Chanyang Joo and Yu-sung Kim, who left North Korea in 2011, tell their story.

“I heard that people sold and ate human flesh,” says Chanyang Joo. “I heard they were killing other family’s babies and selling the flesh after burying the head and fingers.”

Ms Joo says she ignored the rumours until the parents-in-law of a man she knew were publicly executed. They were butchers and the crime, people said, was selling human meat.

Rumours like this have surfaced in the testimony of several defectors coming from North Korea. Whether they are true or not – and we may never know – the fact that they circulate and are believed illustrates the level of hunger, deprivation and fear in parts of the country that marked the Great Famine.

Fellow defector Yu-sung Kim heard these rumours too and believes there may be some truth in them. “When I was in university that had happened,” he says. “It’s due to hallucination caused by severe hunger, people don’t even realise the act as murder and eat the flesh. But that is very, very rare.”

The rumours started during the Great Famine, from 1994 to 1998, when grain shortages in China meant food aid was drastically reduced. Sober estimates say that 600,000 to one million people died during the famine – about three to five per cent of the population of the country.

“It was the most destructive famine of the 20th century,” says Marcus Nolan, author of Famine in North Korea. “The idea that people are sufficiently desperate and unhinged is not surprising.”

Chanyang Joo was just a toddler when her family moved from a city to the rural village where she grew up. It was during the famine, when markets closed and transportation failed. Many in the cities died of starvation, she says, but in the countryside her family survived on vegetables and shrubs.

After the famine they were still very deprived. “We couldn’t get any medicine,” she says. “Very rarely some medicine was brought from China. Doctors sometimes performed surgery without anaesthesia. I saw some emergency patients dying.”

But some North Koreans like Yu-sung Kim and his family were entirely unaffected by the famine. His parents earned money by trading illegally with China and South Korea and arranging for separated families to reunite across the Korean border. He grew up in a government-owned high rise apartment, watching movies and playing video games that were smuggled across the border from the South.

As children, both Kim and Joo learned to worship the regime and its founder Kim il Sung. “The first sentence we learn as a child is ‘Great father Kim Il Sung, thank you.’ and ‘Dear leader Kim Jong Il, thank you,'” says Joo.

“We have to thank the leaders for everything. Every school, every classroom, even the train cars have the pictures of leader Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il on display.”

From preschool to university this is the most important subject for a young North Korean. “You can fail everything as long as you know about the history of the Kim family,” says Joo.

But she had happy memories too. “Until North Korea’s brainwashing education takes effect, children are children,” she says. “When I was little and unaffected by politics, I had the most fun playing with my friends.”

Though his childhood was privileged and the illegal trading of his parents was overlooked by the regime, Yu-sung Kim and his family knew they had to toe the line when it came to certain rules.

They couldn’t watch any news from outside Korea and any criticism of the regime was forbidden. He could discuss politics with his family but not with anyone else. “There is always a government spy in a group of people more than three,” he says. “You could end up in a political prison camp.”

Joo’s family had first-hand experience of these camps. Her grandfather spent nine years in one. He had criticised the regime while with a group of friends but there was a spy in the group and he was arrested. “It was a simple slip of the tongue,” she says.

He told his grand-daughter of horrifying conditions at the prison camp, of people eating rats and digging grain from animal faeces to survive. He said prisoners were attacked by dogs as punishment and dead bodies were left to rot where they fell.

Her grandfather’s experience had a profound effect on the entire family, though not in the way the regime intended. At the camp he interacted with prisoners from the elite classes and learnt of the inequality in North Korea and of life outside the country.

“My grandfather had always told us we had to leave for freedom,” says Joo. “He said ‘Dream big’ and that if we wanted to live in the real world, we had to leave.”

“Since I was little, I strongly felt the need to leave. I’ve never touched a computer but I was really curious about them. I loved studying and was good at it so I wanted to learn as much as I wanted in a free country.”

For seven years, her family plotted to leave North Korea. They listened to radio broadcasts from the South. When this came to the attention of the authorities in 2008 it was time to go. Her father left first through China and Laos to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok. He saved to pay brokers to help the rest of the family escape.

Ms Joo was the last to defect and when authorities found out that her father was missing, she was put under investigation. She told them he had died in a fishing accident. “That is common in North Korea,” she says.

She practised swimming and trained physically for her escape. Three years later she crossed the border to China where she was arrested. China doesn’t recognise North Korean refugees and its official policy is to send them back. But defecting is a very serious crime and repatriation means imprisonment, torture or even death. A religious group, which she cannot name, helped release her from jail.

For Yu-sung Kim and his family, the decision to leave North Korea came suddenly. His father’s business came to light in a South Korean newspaper in 2011, fearing the government reaction they fled. They left behind his younger sister who was ill. He later found out that she was told her family had been captured and killed while attempting to escape. She later died in North Korea.

(North Korean defectors protest about China’s policy of repatriating defectors)

Though he appreciates his freedom Mr Kim says life in Seoul is difficult. He faces prejudice from South Korean society which often considers North Koreans, with their archaic dialect and strange accent, as ignorant and backward.

“In my university when I tell people where I’m from they see me as strange, like an alien from the Moon,” he says.

There are more than 24,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea. When they arrive many lack the basic skills to live and work in a modern society – operating a cash machine, driving a car, using a phone or a computer.

They find it hard to get work and some resort to petty crime which has given the community a bad name. “I sometimes think living in South Korea is fortune and misfortune at the same time,” Mr Kim says.

Chanyang Joo refuses to let prejudice bother her. But she says freedom has its own problems.

“There are too many things to do here and I have to plan my own life and it’s stressful,” she says.

“But when I think about the difficulty of living in a free society, I realise I’m working and getting tired for myself and for my future so I feel happy.”

Source: BBC, 04.32.2013

April 9 '13 - How does North Korea make its money?

by Susannah Cullinane, CNN

(CNN) — There’s a reason that the historical nickname of the “Hermit Kingdom” for the old unified Korea is now applied to the closed North Korea – officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The country is notoriously difficult to get information on and its sanctions-hit economy is said to operate on a number of different levels, including a black market, with the government not even releasing official trade statistics.

CNN examines the North Korean economy and how Pyongyang generates its income.

What’s the overall condition of North Korea’s economy?

Not good. North Korea’s economy is one of the world’s “most centrally directed and least open” and faces “chronic economic problems,” according to the CIA World Factbook — which collects information for U.S. government agencies.

“Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption,” it continues.

The factbook projected data from a 1999 OECD study to estimate North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011 to be $1,800 per capita.

It puts growth at 0.8%. However, U.N. estimates for 2011 put per capita GDP at $506 and growth at -0.1.
In comparison, the factbook estimates South Korea’s GDP per capita in 2011 to be $31,700 and puts growth at 3.6%. Figures for 2012 were $32,400 and 2% respectively.

What are North Korea’s main sources of income?

The factbook defines North Korea’s industries as military products, machine building, electrical power, chemicals, mining, metallurgy, textiles, food processing and tourism.

Its main exports were minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures including armaments, textiles and agricultural and fishery products and its main imports petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment, textiles and grain, it says.

Estimated industry accounted for nearly half of GDP, followed by services and agriculture, the factbook says.

South Korea’s Ministry of Unification put the amount of trade between the two countries in 2011 at about $1.7 billion. Of that, about $914 million was inbound and $800 million outbound. Government and private humanitarian assistance to North Korea totaled about $17.4 million, the ministry said.

Jang Jin-sung is the editor-in-chief of the website New Focus International, which produces news based on a network of North Korean exiles and sources within North Korea. Jang himself in 2004 fled North Korea, where he said he had been on the DPRK Central Broadcasting Committee and the country’s Poet Laureate.

Jang said South Korean investments generated the bulk of North Korea’s foreign currency income with another large chunk of income coming from trade with China. The largest portion of this was from the arms trade, he said.

All North Korean businesses involved with China were also required to give part of their profits — usually more than 50% — to the government’s financial organization known as “Office 38” as “loyalty offerings,” Jang said.

Who are North Korea’s trading partners?

The CIA World Factbook said China accounted for an estimated 67.2% of North Korea’s exports and 61.6% of imports in 2011. South Korea accounted for 19.4% of exports and 20% of imports, while India received an estimated 3.6% of exports and the European Union provided about 4% of imports in 2011.

Professor Jim Hoare is a senior teaching fellow at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). He established Britain’s first embassy in North Korea in 2001.

Hoare said that for a time in the early part of the last decade South Korea had been Pyongyang’s main known trading partner. However, that had deteriorated since the last president — Lee Myung-bak — ended Seoul’s previous policy of engagement and China became Pyongyang’s main trading partner.

“There are Chinese goods all over the country. China supplies it with oil and food stuffs and everything from buses to toilet seats,” Hoare said.

What interest does China have in helping North Korea?

It’s commonly believed that Beijing feels it is safer to have North Korea on its border than U.S. ally South Korea, Jang said. However, China moved against North Korea when it voted in favor of the U.N. resolution condemning Pyonyang’s nuclear test earlier this year.

Jang said he believed China was supporting sanctions in response to attempts by North Korea’s military to claw back power it had lost under the regency rule of Kim Jong Un’s uncle Jang Song-taek and his aunt Kim Kyong-hui. The military under Kim Jong Il had created a headache for China and that it would rather have the regency holding power, he said.

Writing for, Jenny Jun speculated that Beijing might have “experienced a classic mismatch between means and ends when efforts to maintain the status quo by propping up the internal regime ended up propping up the North’s nuclear program as well.”

What standard of living do ordinary North Koreans have?

In 2011, UNICEF estimated that about a quarter of North Korea’s population — or six million people — did not have enough to eat. Nearly a million of those were children under the age of five, it said. UNICEF said food was rationed in North Korea and that the country was “susceptible to food crises because of political and economic isolation, and climate change.”

The World Food Programme says North Korea continues “to face regular, significant food shortages,” with one in every three children chronically malnourished or too short for their age.

The United States suspended shipments of food aid to North Korea in 2009 after the North started rejecting shipments amid tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program and concerns that the supplies were not reaching those most in need.

In March 2012, Pyongyang agreed to halt portions of its nuclear and missile programs and accept the return of nuclear inspectors in exchange for 240,000 metric tons of U.S. food aid.

However, later the same month North Korea’s announcement of another rocket test ended the deal.

Hoare said the standard of living in Pyongyang differed from other parts of the country. “Pyongyang is the elite. A lot of people do have money — the restaurants are used by Koreans, officials and others. Elsewhere, senior officials will have access to funds.

“Most people live a pretty hand-to-mouth existence in the North apart from the elite.”
The diet of North Koreans was a “much more reduced one than that in the South,” he said. “Most people live on grains and vegetables with meat and fish very, very, rare in their diet. Even in Pyongyang, people aren’t living that high on the hog,” he said, although the elite and foreigners were protected.

Why is North Korea’s economy in such bad shape?

The official economy was based around heavy industry on North Korea’s east coast and until at least the mid-1970s, North Korea was one of the two main industrial nations in Asia, alongside Japan, Hoare said. While not an official member, North Korea had also benefited from the Soviet-led Council for Mutual

Economic Assistance — an economic union between Soviet states referred to as Comecon.
However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and a series of natural disasters saw its industrial sector enter a steep decline in the 1980s, which further intensified in the 1990s, leaving the economy “pretty decrepit,” he said. The country also had an oil shortage. “It used to get its oil from the Soviet Union, it doesn’t anymore,” Hoare said. Agriculture had been on a “downward spiral” since the 1980s, with an overdependence on fertilizers. “The land is worn out, people are worn out, equipment is worn out.”

But it’s difficult to get reliable information on North Korea’s economy. Hoare said Pyongyang had not published any statistics on its economy since the early 1960s. “This is all a very murky and difficult area. It’s not clear, it is opaque and it’s hard to get very precise figures and an exact picture.

That’s the nature of the animal,” he said.

The country also had electricity shortages, he said, which was one of Pyongyang’s arguments for developing nuclear power.

Since Pyongyang’s first nuclear test in 2006, the U.N. Security Council has also targeted North Korea with sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

It has frozen economic assets controlled by entities engaged in or providing support for North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile-related programs.

New sanctions introduced in March blocked the sale of luxury goods — such as yachts and certain high-end jewelry — to North Korea.

Don’t the sanctions affect ordinary North Koreans?

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the block on luxury goods would mean “North Korea’s ruling elite, who have been living large while impoverishing their people, will pay a direct price” for the country’s nuclear activities.

Jang said a body known as “Office 38” generated money for North Korea’s ruling party and the infrastructure of the elite and had been seen as Kim Jong Il’s personal fund when he was alive. It was foreign currency based, he said.

He said there was also a “people’s economy” mainly based on the black market since North Korea’s won currency had lost value.

This market economy had emerged “partly as a coping mechanism as a result of the famine – since the
1990s,” Hoare said. He broke the economies down into the official economy, the people’s economy, a military economy and an economy “to keep the leadership in the style to which it is accustomed.”
What about the arms trade?

In its March 2013 resolution following North Korea’s February nuclear test, the U.N. Security Council referred to the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation (KOMID), as North Korea’s “primary arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.”

On April 2 2013, North Korea was one of three U.N. member states — alongside Syria and Iran — to vote against the organization’s first treaty to regulate the global arms trade.

What other illicit trades is North Korea allegedly involved in?

North Korean citizens, including government officials have been involved in drug trafficking for years, according to the CIA World Factbook. It said in recent years North Korea had been linked to large shipments of heroin and methamphetamine.

Other illegal exports North Korea had intended for foreigners had come back to bite the country, Jang said. Counterfeit notes proved to be too poor a quality for foreign use but had ended up on the North Korean market. The problem was so widespread that Pyongyang would not accept widely counterfeit $100 notes for loyalty offerings, insisting $50 notes were paid instead, he said. For its part, the North Koreans have denied any involvement in counterfeiting.

Similarly, recreational drugs intended for international criminal markets had instead become a domestic headache, with many North Koreans now suffering from addiction to drugs such as meth and opium, he said. Click here to read New Focus’ article on drugs in North Korea.

North Korea has denied involvement in illegal drugs and arms smuggling.

So how do ordinary North Koreans get by?

North Korea had traditionally fed its people but when the Soviet Union collapsed they had nothing and started bartering for food and all kinds of items, Jang said. Items were brought in from China to be traded so Chinese traders dominate the people’s market.

New Focus International reported that black-market trading “provides the main source of income for most North Koreans.” The black-markets were known as “jangmadang,” it said.

Hoare said that when North Korea’s economy had been stronger, workers had received money through the state’s Public Distribution System. “Wages are worthless but now people trade on the markets.”

He said markets were “tolerated” and could sometimes be seen down side streets. “My wife and I once walked through what was known as a ‘frogs market’.” The term arose because traders would “leap up and disappear like frogs and then reassemble behind you as it were.”

What currency is used in North Korea?

The DPRK’s official currency is the North Korean won, but Jang said everything in North Korea was pegged on the U.S. dollar, including the black market economy. The won was effectively “like toilet paper” he said and because all business was done using dollars the currency was used by people to barter even at the lowest levels of North Korean society.

Pyongyang had tried to revalue the currency but because everyone used U.S. dollars to trade, the dollar consistently went up and the won continued to fall in value, he said.

Hoare said euros were increasingly being used in some areas because North Koreans were worried the U.S. would somehow cut off dollars. Foreign currency flowed into North Korea in a number of ways including cross border trade with China and visiting foreigners, he said. All embassies also had to operate in foreign currency.

“We were not supposed to handle North Korean money. So it’s pretty widespread. If you go into a hotel or restaurant prices are in foreign currency rather than Korean won,” he said. North Koreans in Japan or South Korea and defectors were also reportedly sending money back — usually through China, Hoare said.
In its article on jangmadang, New Focus International describes how money sent by a defector to his family in North Korea is laundered on the illegal markets.

What is the Kaesong Industrial Complex?

North Korea has said it will pull out all of its workers and suspend operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, accusing the South of seeking “to turn the zone into a hotbed of war.”

The complex sits on the North’s side of the border but houses the operations of several of South Korean companies. The complex is considered to be an important source of hard currency for Kim Jong Un’s regime. More than 50,000 North Koreans work in the zone, producing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of goods each year. Those workers earn on average $134 a month, of which North Korean authorities take about 45% in various taxes.

South Korean company Hyandai Asan — affiliated to the carmaker Hyundai — was involved in the complex’s development.

Hoare said the complex was “all that’s left of the engagement policy all that was used from 1997 on.” Jang said it was the last card of any significance held by North Korea as Pyongyang knew that outsiders saw it as a symbol of cooperation.

Are there any other such joint projects between the Koreas?

The only other joint business project had been the Mount Kumgang Tourist Region, Hoare said, Hyundai Asan operated tours.

However, tours were suspended when a North Korean guard shot dead a South Korean woman in 2008 and Pyongyang refused Seoul’s request for an inquiry. “North Korea effectively confiscated the South Korean complex and began to use it themselves for tourism,” Hoare said. “There was talk in 2007 of developing other such complexes but then there was a change of president.”

Source: CNN, 04.09.2013

April 9 '13 - North Korean army 'split' over Kim Jong-un

By Michael Moore

North Korea’s army was deeply split over whether to accept the command of Kim Jong-un, a former officer has revealed, giving a possible clue to the tensions lying behind the young leader’s calls to war.

North Korean Harbin H-5 bomber jets at Uiju Airfield near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong Photo: REUTERS/Jacky Chen

First Lieutenant Kim, 42, said he had been forced to flee North Korea after he murdered a rival officer as the factions within his army unit battled for control.

“I killed a three-star company commander, the same rank as me,” he said. “He was the head of the faction supporting Kim Jong-un. There were two fights. In the first fight, they surrounded us and arrested a lot of people.

“But I got away and gathered others from the barracks. We found them and I shot the commander. After that, I escaped”.

The battles occurred at the end of 2011, shortly before Kim Jong-un succeeded his father as the “supreme commander” of the Korean People’s Army, the 1.2 million-strong standing force that remains at the heart of North Korea’s “military-first” society.

“It was before he came to power, but we all knew for a long time that he was going to be made the leader. There were a lot of people who were against him. But everyone in that faction got arrested after he came to power,” said Lt. Kim.

His group, he said, supported Kim Yong-nam, North Korea’s 85-year-old president.

Divisions within the military, and the desire of a leader who may be only 30-years-old to consolidate his position, could be one factor behind the current spate of aggression.

“The further north you go (in North Korea), the more you hear rumours of dissension and divisions over who is or who would have been a better leader,” said Joseph Bermudez, an expert on the North Korean military and an analyst at DigitalGlobe.

He added that there had been rumours last year of a possibly violent falling-out between two major departments over who would be in charge of army reconnaissance. That, he said, might have alarmed Kim Jong-un, who subsequently reshuffled a host of leading generals.

Lt Kim, who would not give his first name, said he was from Uiju county, close to the Chinese border city of Dandong. He has spent the last two years lying low in China, rarely venturing out, and waiting for his chance to travel to South Korea.

“We knew that South Korea was on a path to democracy and they had a good life and they had enough food. I had never eaten rice, and I cried the first time I smelled it cooking here in China,” he added.

Wearing a pair of cheap Chinese trainers, a patterned jumper and a green Chinese army surplus great coat, a palpably scared Lt Kim was unable to offer any formal identification. His left arm hung awkwardly from an old wound to his shoulder.

If he is caught by the Chinese, he will be sent back to face either the death penalty or life in a gulag.
A halting interview with him, in the back of a taxi parked in the sparse countryside outside Dandong, was arranged through an agent who is helping to smuggle him to the South, and who charged £100 to speak to the former officer.

“I give him food,” the agent said. “He used to be skinny, but after staying indoors these years, he has eaten well.

“I have contact with the South Korean spies who are here in Dandong. They keep an eye on relations between China and the North, but they also pay for me to deliver North Koreans to them. He will probably be sold next month, but until then the North Koreans are searching for him.” The agent, a trim ethnic Korean in a nylon bomber jacket, declined to give his name.

He claimed that he had smuggled out 60 to 80 people out last year, many of whom were escaping after internal riots last year in Manpo, another city close to the border. “Only three in 10 defectors are successful,” he said. “The others are arrested or are shot as they escape.”

After two years outside of the country, Lt Kim said he had “no idea” what lay behind this month’s aggression. “I do not know why they are doing what they are doing now,” he said.

“Before I left, we used to hear that there was fighting between Kim Jong-un and his brother, who does not like China. They have different mothers so they are struggling against each other.”

But he predicted there would be “no war” and that the regime would continue its hold on power, despite the desperate problems in many parts of the country.

“The situation is very bad. People are starving. There are some rich people, some rich politicians, who have a lot of money, but the rest of the people do not have anything. My father and mother both starved to death and my older brother died of illness,” he said.

Lt Kim said he had commanded a construction company which excavated mountains for military installations.
“We were digging fortifications to prepare for war,” he said. “Some of the projects would last for six years.”

Mr Bermudez said there was still not enough information to establish the motive for North Korea’s war footing. “We have not seen this before. We might be seeing that the generals have been given far more room and they are exploiting that, without really understanding the effect on the international community.”

When asked if the North Korean army is still strong, Lt Kim answered automatically: “Yes, very strong”. The man who smuggled him out of North Korea, however, doubled up laughing at the officer’s response.

“They are taught that they are the strongest army in the world, and the best equipped. But in reality, their equipment is what we were using in China 60 years ago!” he said.

Source: The Telegraph, 04.09.2013

April 2 '13 - North Korean defectors return rhetorical fire

by Kyung Lah

Seoul (CNN) — The world knows North Korea for its loud and over-the-top warmongering rhetoric about the U.S. But the true war is being fought in whispers, across secret phone lines and smuggled radios. And it’s those whispers that reveal how close the peninsula may be to an actual war.

“North Koreans want to go to war soon and unite the country. They want to get out of their difficult lives through war,” said Kim Seong Min, with Free North Korea Radio. “North Koreans are not getting any information from the outside world. They think they will win if a war breaks out.”

Kim is a foot soldier in the propaganda war. He hopes to turn North Korea’s people against the regime, broadcasting a message of democracy over the radio. He records commentaries and news bulletins that are blasted over a shortwave radio frequency. In his job, he speaks to paid sources who slip him information via Chinese mobile phones at the border. He also has sources within the elite Pyongyang military ranks.

Kim says the angry war rhetoric is a product of Kim Jong Un’s weak standing as a new leader.

“Kim Jong Un is not even 30 years old and everyone in North Korea knows this. He also doesn’t have a solid position within the army. North Koreans are also not sure how to handle the fact that their leader is so young.”

That’s similar to what defectors are telling the Daily NK, an online news site based in Seoul funded by a U.S. endowment. The Daily NK also has sources within the military elite and the general North Korean population.

“The sources we’re hearing from are exhausted with the drills and the mobilization of the masses. Some feel nationalistic pride that comes with the rhetoric out of North Korea. At the same time, they’re aware of the stagnant economy on the decline and the real need for change and opening,” says Daily NK’s Gregory Pence.

Pence is a Chicago native who came to Seoul as a Fulbright scholar. He stayed to work on the mission of opening up North Korea’s human rights abuses to the international community.

Pence says opinions at the Daily NK, which is staffed with North Korean defectors, vary. But many at the publication fear that poor decisions can be made in times of fear. What will hold back war, Pence believes, is regime preservation.

“North Korea risks outright annihilation. If a war broke out and escalated, it would cost the peninsula, the world,” Pence adds. “In the end, North Korea would not exist. And the leadership is aware of that.”

Source: CNN, 04.02.2013

Mar 29 '13 - Pyongyang Blusters, and U.S. Worries About Quieter Risks

By Choe Sang-hun and David E. Sanger

University students marched through Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea, on Friday. Jon Chol Jin/Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea — This week, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jung-un, ordered his underlings to prepare for a missile attack on the United States. He appeared at a command center in front of a wall map with the bold, unlikely title, “Plans to Attack the Mainland U.S.” Earlier in the month, his generals boasted of developing a “Korean-style” nuclear warhead that could be fitted atop a long-range missile.

But the missile systems that figure in Mr. Kim’s blitz of threats and orders do not yet have the range to approach American shores. There is no evidence his nuclear weapons can be shrunk to fit atop a missile. And a prominent photograph showing Mr. Kim’s military making a Normandy-style beach landing appears to have been manufactured, raising questions about whether his forces could possibly repeat the feat his grandfather pulled off in 1950, ordering a ground attack to open the Korean War.

On top of all that, most countries on the verge of a major military assault do not broadcast their battle plans to the world.

“You would expect such a military order to be issued in secret,” said Kim Min-seok, spokesman of the South Korean Defense Ministry. “We believe that by revealing it to the media and publicizing it to the world, North Korea is playing psychology.”

In fact, it is the abilities that Mr. Kim is not showing off that have the Obama administration most worried. The cyberattacks on South Korea’s banking system and television broadcasters two weeks ago were surprisingly successful, as was the torpedo attack three years ago this week on the Cheonan, a naval corvette, that killed 46 South Korean sailors. The North has never acknowledged involvement in either — though the South believes it was responsible for both and so do American experts.

“We’re convinced this is about Kim solidifying his place with his own people and his own military, who still don’t know him,” one senior administration official said Friday. He added, “We’re worried about what he’s going to do next, but we’re not worried about what he seems to be threatening to do next.”

The cyberattacks and torpedo attack have something in common: Unlike the missile attacks and beach landings that Mr. Kim seems to be suggesting are imminent, they are hard to trace to North Korea, at least immediately. As a result, they are hard to retaliate against, and in fact the South never struck back militarily for the sinking of the Cheonan, even after a commission of inquiry, with experts from outside South Korea, concluded it was the work of a submarine-launched torpedo.

To North Korea experts in Washington and Seoul, there is something familiar in the country’s threats to “keep the White House in the cross hairs of our long-range missiles.” Such threat of armed brinkmanship — the catchphrase in the 1990s was that Seoul would become a “sea of fire,” a term recently revived by North Korea’s news agencies — has in the past drawn its adversaries to the bargaining table with economic concessions. But at the same time, the tensions with the outside world provide the government with opportunities to elevate its leader’s status among his people — which might be more important to a young, untested leader than it was to his father and grandfather.

According to the view that North Korea’s propaganda machine pounds into its citizens’ minds, the North is a tiny nation besieged by hostile outside forces, one that survived despite decades of sanctions and can finally stand up to both its longtime Chinese ally and American enemy — all thanks to the strong “military-first” leadership of the Kim family and the country’s nuclear arsenal.

In such a setting, Mr. Kim’s trip to a border island on a wooden boat — it almost seemed designed to create a “Washington crossing the Delaware” motif — is proof of his “daring and pluck,” as the country’s main party newspaper, Rodong, explained. Rodong also declared about North Korea’s nuclear weapons: “Let the American imperialists and their followers know! We are not a pushover like Iraq or Libya.” The first, famously, had no nuclear weapons; the second gave up its nascent nuclear program in late 2003, a move North Korea describes as Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s greatest mistake.

In the propaganda world that the three generations of the Kim dynasty has created, Mr. Kim is “a great iron-willed general admired by all of his people, including real generals who have actually served in the military,” said Lee Sung-yoon, North Korea specialist at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. “For the Kim III, fantasy is reality.”

Keeping the fantasy up has required a lot of work in the past month, with many visits to military units on both of the country’s coasts, and a lot of conferences at midnight with generals.

Yet in each of these scenes, North Korea’s propagandists sometimes made Mr. Kim look as much a clumsy actor as a new leader of one of the world’s most belligerent governments.

For one, North Korean state-run media on March 12 released a photo showing Mr. Kim arriving at an island within the gun range of South Korean marines and quoted him as threatening to “cut the windpipes of the enemies.” But it strained credibility that he traveled to a region he called a powder keg on a small unarmed wooden boat, as shown in the photo.

On Tuesday, North Korea released a photo showing Mr. Kim watching hovercrafts storm a snow-covered beach in eastern North Korea. But it did not take long for journalists and analysts to conclude that the picture was clumsily doctored to add more amphibious landing vehicles and make the drill look far more imposing than it really was.

Then on Friday, photos released by the North’s state media, which also showed signs of digital manipulation, featured Mr. Kim huddling with his top generals during a midnight meeting to approve “plans to strike the mainland U.S.” A military chart behind them showed a series of lines shooting out of North Korea and hitting major cities in the United States, including those on the East Coast. Even if the North Koreans had such missiles — most analysts doubt it does — would they really intend to launch them at the United States in what would be a suicidal action for the Pyongyang government?

“We’re all trying to put him on the couch,” said Jonathan D. Pollack, a North Korea expert at the Brookings Institution. “A year ago the U.S. and the Chinese saw at least the possibility that you could do business with him. But he has steadily reverted to form,” adopting the approach of his father and grandfather in using the perception of an external threat to solidify support at home.

On Saturday those threats were South Korea and “the Americans and their puppets,” a statement from the North said. The two Koreas “were back to a state of war,” it said, and the North’s foes “should know that everything is different under our peerless general and dear Marshal Kim Jong-un.” While many fear that Mr. Kim’s rhetoric is building up toward some action, Mr. Pollack held out the hope that the threats could abate as United States and South Korean military exercises, which infuriate the North, wind up at the end of April.

Source: The New York Times, 03.29.2013

Mar 15 '13 - North Korean Workers in China Face Stepped-up Restrictions

(At a customs point in Dandong, China, North Korean women prepare to travel home across the border, Dec. 13, 2012.)

North Koreans crossing the border to work in Chinese businesses are facing stepped-up restrictions in the wake of strengthened U.N. sanctions on Pyongyang over its nuclear test, sources said.

Chinese authorities have often turned a blind eye to North Korean black-market labor along their common border area, but sources this week cited cases of officials denying re-entry to a group of North Korean workers and warning a Chinese employer against hiring illegal immigrants.

The reports come on the heels of last week’s decision by Beijing, Pyongyang’s top ally, to back a U.N. Security Council resolution tightening financial restrictions and other sanctions on North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s defiant February nuclear test.

China sought “full implementation” of the new resolution amid indications that it is getting more impatient with Pyongyang’s defiant behavior.

Sources could not say whether the clampdown ordered by Beijing on North Korean workers was a direct result of the sanctions, but they indicated the migrants were facing greater scrutiny from local authorities.

Not allowed in

A source in China said this week that a group of North Koreans who had worked at a factory in the border city of Donggang on short-term visas, which require them to return home every month, had been barred from re-entry.

“Some North Korean workers who worked in a clothing factory in Donggang city, Liaoning province, had gone back to North Korea because the factory didn’t have enough work for them.”

“After that they tried to go into China again, but the local government denied their re-entry,” the source told RFA’s Korean Service, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Twenty miles (30 kilometers) north of Donggang in the larger border city of Dandong, a restaurant owner said authorities had come by his business searching for illegal North Korean employees.

“Recently, an official came and checked out whether North Koreans are working or not. Also, he warned me not to hire illegal workers.”

“I think the official is pointing out North Koreans who came to China illegally to make money,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Rules and regulations

Under Chinese regulations, businesses must receive permission in advance to hire North Koreans, and the migrants may not make up more than 20 percent of their employees.

Only companies in clothing, software, and food processing industries are allowed to employ them.

In order to work in China, North Koreans are required to obtain a work visa and permission from Chinese provincial authorities.

But many of the North Koreans employed by Chinese businesses do so without applying for visas from China, instead getting a “government affairs” visa issued by North Korea which requires them to return to North Korea every 30 days.

Going back and forth once a month, they provide a cheap source of labor to Chinese businesses and bring their earnings back to their impoverished home country.

Patience thinning

China has condemned North Korea for conducting the nuclear test, as well as for threatening pre-emptive nuclear strikes against the United States and South Korea and announcing it had nullified the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War.

U.N. Security Council diplomats said the success of the new sanctions will depend on the willingness of China to enforce them more strictly than it has in the past.

On Thursday, U.S. President Barack Obama pressed China’s newly elected President Xi Jinping on the need to coordinate to ensure Pyongyang meets its denuclearization obligations.

China has come under fire from international human rights groups for its policy of treating North Koreans who cross the border into the country as illegal economic migrants rather than as refugees, and for sometimes deporting groups of them back to North Korea.

Last year, China’s Economic Observer journal reported that most North Korean workers in the country had entered illegally.

“North Korean workers are divided into those who are officially dispatched workers, relative visitors, and illegal entrants. The percentage of illegal entrants is the highest among the three types,” it said.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Goeun Yu. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 03.15.2013

Mar 7 '13 - U.N. Security Council approves new sanctions against North Korea

By Colum Lynch and Joby Warrick

UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council took direct aim at North Korea’s leadership Thursday with new sanctions targeting cash transfers and luxury items, punishing the reclusive regime for its latest nuclear test while evoking a fresh torrent of threats from the North Korean capital.

The sanctions, drafted by the United States and China and approved unanimously, were adopted against a backdrop of apocalyptic rhetoric from Pyongyang, including a threat to launch a preemptive nuclear strike against foreign “aggressors,” a term traditionally interpreted to include the United States.

The Obama administration dismissed the threat and warned North Korea of further isolation and economic pain if it conducts more nuclear tests.

“We are fully capable of defending the United States,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington shortly after the U.N. vote.

Hours after the sanctions were approved, North Korea also said it would nullify a nonaggression agreement with South Korea and close a liaison channel along the demilitarized border that divides the two countries.

The sanctions approved by the 15-member Security Council were among the most comprehensive in recent years, as the world body acted with unanimity to denounce North Korea’s third nuclear test since 2006.

The U.N. resolution imposed new restrictions on North Korean shipping firms and financial institutions and sought to block certain kinds of cash transfers frequently used by North Korean officials to obtain weapons-sensitive technology or to circumvent existing sanction law. A provision that directly targeted the North’s ruling elite also tightened restrictions on overseas travel and on the importation of such luxury items as yachts, jewelry and racing cars.

The council warned of “further significant measures” if the North carried out another nuclear or ballistic missile test, a threat echoed by U.S. officials and diplomats. “Taken together, these sanctions will bite, and bite hard,” Susan E. Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote.

China’s prominent role in drafting the measures highlighted the growing isolation of the hermetic Stalinist state, long regarded as a close ally of Beijing. China’s U.N. envoy, Li Baodong, described the vote as one step in a “hard, tedious” journey to achieve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. He said his government hopes the international community will now pursue talks with Pyongyang.

“The adoption of the resolution . . . is not for the sake of sanctions,” Li said after the vote. “The top priority now is to defuse the tension, bring down the heat, focus on [the] diplomatic track.”

There were no conciliatory signs from Pyongyang. Instead, in the hours before the vote, the North increased its bluster, issuing taunts and threats that were shrill even by North Korean standards.

A Foreign Ministry statement published by Pyongyang’s news agency decried the new sanctions as part of a U.S.-led “war of aggression,” vowing that the North would respond with a display of “the might . . . it built up decades after decades, and put an end to the evil cycle of tension.” The statement further warned that Pyongyang would exercise its right for “a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors.”

White House spokesman Jay Carney dismissed the threat, citing improved U.S. missile-defense capabilities against the “limited ballistic missile threats” that might emanate from North Korea in the coming years.

“Let us be clear: We are fully capable of dealing with that threat,” Carney said.

On Capitol Hill, Glyn T. Davies, the State Department’s special representative for North Korean policy, said Pyongyang’s recent nuclear test was the latest in a series of provocations that demanded a firm global response.

“North Korea’s [weapons of mass destruction], ballistic missile, conventional arms and proliferation activities constitute a serious and unacceptable threat to U.S. national security,” Davies said in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“The . . . leadership in Pyongyang faces sharp choices,” Davies said, “and we are working to further sharpen those choices.”

Warrick reported from Washington. Chico Harlan in Seoul contributed to this report.

Source: The Washington Post, 03.07.2013

Full text of the resolution:

Feb 9 '13 - Rumblings from Below

A monstrously unjust society is changing in ways its despotic ruler may not be able to control.

WITH her turquoise top, Dayglo trainers and Hello Kitty mobile phone, Jeon Geum Ju fits right in among the young latte-sippers in a Starbucks in downtown Seoul. Her dark eyes sparkle as she talks—and she talks a lot. The only time that the 26-year-old hesitates, and tugs at her hair awkwardly, is when she is asked about Kim Jong Un, the young leader of North Korea who took over her country in 2011, a year after she fled to South Korea. She was, she says, so brainwashed from a very early age that she still cannot bring herself to criticise him.

Ms Jeon is no apologist for the regime. Though her escape from North Korea was not caused by the starvation and abject cruelty that force others to leave, it was, she says, still a flight from oppression. What she craved was the freedom to wear flared jeans and jewellery and to let her hair, which most North Korean women keep in a bun, grow long and wavy. She even fantasised about driving a red sports car, with dark glasses on.

She nurtured such dreams in her bedroom, watching illegal South Korean and American TV dramas smuggled in from China and shared among her friends on memory sticks which they plugged into black-market computers, some made by South Korea’s Samsung. She even flaunted her tastes in public. That was until the fashion police—no figure of speech in North Korea—arrested her for wearing a winter hat with “New York” on it. She was screamed at as “bourgeois trash” and released only when her mother, then a black-market trader, handed over two dozen packets of cigarettes as a bribe.

Such materialist tastes, however incongruous in a country where more than a quarter of young children are chronically malnourished, appear to reflect a changing reality in North Korea. While the Kim family dynasty, now in its third generation, seems almost immutable, the country that it rules over has altered dramatically. Instead of relying on state patronage for survival, people now hustle to make ends meet, and many of those who succeed use corruption, black markets, influence-peddling, inside information, criminality: in short, all the dark arts of an unregulated, out-of-control private economy.

Until recently, the outside world has known little about North Korean society. But during the past decade information has flowed—albeit illegally—both into and out of North Korea (see chart 1). Last year an American government-backed report by InterMedia, a consultancy, welcomed the deluge pouring into the North through digital media and old-style broadcasting such as Voice of America and the Korean Broadcasting System. “North Koreans can get more outside information…than ever before,” it said, “and they are less fearful of sharing that information.”

This has had two effects. First, people inside North Korea with access to outside influences can now compare their impoverished lives with others’ elsewhere. That has helped trigger a craving for the material trappings of the modern world, and the flow of such contraband goods from China to the North Korean border, orchestrated or waved on by corrupt officials. It has, says Andrei Lankov, a Russian expert on North Korea at Kookmin University in Seoul, become a society where money now talks even more loudly than your relationship to the regime. “It’s a completely different society than it was 15 years ago. This has not happened because of government policy. It’s a change from below.”

Second, new information flows have given outsiders an insight into the changes taking place in North Korean society. This year, for the first time, Google and some dedicated North Korea-watchers have mapped the interior of the country, locating everything from underground railway stations to labour camps. That information will not be available to North Koreans, almost all of whom are barred from using the internet. But for outsiders it helps unravel the all-enwrapping shroud of secrecy.

Meanwhile economists have studied defectors, making remarkable discoveries about the huge role private income now plays in people’s lives, and the changing sexual dynamics as women who run the black markets become the main breadwinners. Defector-led news sources, such as the Seoul-based DailyNK, amplify the information flow. They have built up contacts with clandestine sources inside North Korea, who use illegal mobile phones to provide news ranging from gossip about Mr Kim’s new wife to evidence of galloping inflation and currency turmoil (see chart 2). What has emerged is a picture of a two-speed society. Pyongyang has surged ahead of the rest of the country, the kleptocrats have grown stronger, and canny traders have joined a fledgling class of nouveaux riches.

These changes have been easy to miss with so much attention falling on the Kim family, particularly in the past year. The ascendancy of Kim Jong Un after his father’s death in December 2011 brought hopes that he might be a great reformer. His more boisterous style of leadership, supplemented by a fashionable wife and a taste for visits to fairgrounds, suggested that he might be closer to the people. His speeches were peppered with references to people’s livelihoods, rather than the “military-first” obsession of his father. Domestically, the greatest coup of his first year in office was the launch of a satellite into orbit in December, despite protests from around the world that he was experimenting with missile technology.

Partying in Pyongyang

The change of mood is said to be palpable in the capital. “Pyongyang is more relaxed. It is still extremely repressive socially, but people are taking their cue from the new leadership,” says a diplomat who lives there. On New Year’s Day senior diplomats were invited to a party hosted by Mr Kim that included the scientists behind the rocket launch. Many ambassadors were delighted to shake the hand of the despot-in-chief for the first time—though there was chagrin that the former Swiss-school pupil did not speak English. “Not even ‘Happy new year’,” one guest noted.

(Latest meeting of the Pyongyang Missile-Appreciation Society)

The mood has soured since. Mr Kim’s new-year speech called for an end to confrontation between North and South. Yet as soon as the UN Security Council issued new sanctions against the regime as a result of the rocket launch, the response was apoplectic, warning of more tests and threatening to attack America. The son’s regime, it turns out, is no less capricious than his father’s was.

The changes beneath him, however, seem likely to continue. They are easiest to spot in Pyongyang, where the proliferation of new city lights is exclusively fed by the Huichon hydroelectric power station. The lights conspicuously stay on at night in some of the new high-rise apartment buildings; the plushest ones at Mansudae, 45 storeys high, flash in several colours. (Inside, though, residents are said to keep buckets of water in reserve for when the taps run dry.)

More cars run on better-paved roads. Rüdiger Frank, a German economist and regular visitor to North Korea, wrote recently that two-storey establishments with a shop on the ground floor and restaurant and sauna above have mushroomed. “Prices are horrendous; three kilograms [6.6lb] of apples cost as much as one (official) month’s wages. But the fact that even things like bananas are being sold is remarkable. The problem does not seem to be access any more…[just] having the right amount of the right currency.”

One of those currencies is good information. There are said to be 2m PCs, 1.5m mobile phones, not counting the illegal Chinese ones, and a home-produced tablet computer. Behind closed doors, these have fostered new signs of change, such as the adoption among the elite of South Korean clothes, mannerisms and even accents. In his recent book, “Only Beautiful, Please”, John Everard, Britain’s ambassador to Pyongyang from 2006 to 2008, recounts a story of one mother, answering a phone call from one of her child’s friends, joking: “It’s Seoul on the line for you.”

Yet there is also a dash of Potemkin about Pyongyang. Behind the high-rises lie unpaved roads. Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, have referred to the “Pyongyang illusion”. They believe the authorities may not just want to improve the capital, but also to forestall an uprising among urbanites. And resources may be sucked from the rest of the country to pay for it.

A widening gap also yawns between Pyongyang and the rest of the country. UN agencies reported a slight improvement in overall nutrition levels last year, but revealed a stark contrast between the level of stunting, or chronic malnutrition, among under-fives. The shares range from below 20% in the capital to almost 40% in Ryanggang province, part of North Korea’s most impoverished rural north.

Genies into bottles

Mr Frank, the German economist, notes that there is nothing unusual about growing gaps between the capital city and elsewhere. The regime may have decided, he says, to develop one city as best as they can, “rather than spreading their scarce resources across the country with a watering can and achieving no visible results.”

Yet it is also possible that the brighter lights, firework displays and spruced up parks in Pyongyang are a cynical attempt to give unhappy citizens in the provinces somewhere else to yearn to live besides Seoul. It seems to be no coincidence that as the skyline of Pyongyang becomes more alluring, a severe crackdown is in force on TV dramas from South Korea and on escapes to South Korea via China: the numbers fleeing dropped by 44% last year, to 1,509. It is as if the regime is trying to stuff the genie back into the bottle—but too late. “The country is beset with macroeconomic instability, deepening inequality, rising corruption and a political leadership that appears to lack the vision or capacity to respond,” Mr Noland wrote last year.

He talks of a “supply line” that now runs up the west of the country to Chinese towns like Dandong near the north-western border, along which raw materials flow in exchange for illicitly procured consumer goods that flow back the other way, paid for in hard currency. He says there is anecdotal evidence that senior officials are involved in these trades. For instance, a senior food-distribution official may have the best information on the rising price of grain, which means he will try to increase imports. His wife may well be the main grain-wholesaler in the black market.

When there have been crackdowns on the markets, as during a disastrous currency experiment in 2009, Mr Noland reckons large chunks of the economy may have seized up because of shortages of basics, such as cement. This may have taught the authorities to turn a blind eye to the illegal activities. Even remittances from defectors in South Korea seem to be tolerated, provided officials get a cut. A system loosely akin to Islamic hawalahas developed, in which money flows between banks in South Korea and China and brokers deliver the cash equivalent to family members in North Korea. Sokeel Park of Liberty in North Korea, a group which works with defectors, says this is how some people acquire cash to escape.

Enterprise, North Korean-style

It is not just the elite who have benefited from what Messrs Haggard and Noland call “entrepreneurial coping behaviour”. Lee Seongmin, a 27-year-old defector in Seoul, had no such privileges when, at the age of 12, he started to sneak into China to find food as famine ravaged North Korea. At 17, however, he was caught, imprisoned and severely beaten. When he came out he decided to take a more enterprising route, befriending border guards and acquiring an illegal mobile phone from his sister in China. He started importing car parts, using his phone to call China for deliveries. The soldiers at the border would pull the merchandise across the Yalu river with ropes, he says, and he would pay them off. He would then use his job working for a state distribution company to truck the parts around the country. He made so much money that he had to bury it under his kitchen floor, and often regrets his impulsive decision to defect.

These illegal markets, Mr Lee says, have produced a class of new rich who sometimes flaunt their wealth—and pay off the authorities if they become too suspicious about it. Those with hard currency also instantly became relatively richer after the 2009 currency experiments, which had the effect of severely devaluing the North Korean won.

Since then, conspicuous consumption appears to have increased. Mr Lankov writes of rich people going to expensive sushi bars and buying illegal property, TVs and refrigerators. Their main complaint is the unreliable electricity supply. Perhaps the biggest luxury is a dedicated line to the local power substation, paid for by bribing a corrupt official or military commander.

These entrepreneurs may eventually pose a threat to the regime, though they also have a stake in preserving the status quo if it enables them to make money. The test may come if a serious attempt is made to seize their wealth. Alternatively, the increasingly visible gap between rich and poor may breed resentment. Ms Jeon says she was sickened to see one class of justice for the rich and another for the poor. One of her mother’s impoverished acquaintances was sentenced to death for helping two girls leave the country; the woman’s children were summoned to witness the firing squad without realising their mother was the victim. Ms Jeon surmises that if the woman had had more money or better contacts, she might have been spared.

North Korea has long been a grotesquely unjust society. But since a famine in the late 1990s killed up to 1m people, and led to the breakdown of the system through which food was distributed around the country, experts say the state’s control over people’s lives has waned. “North Korean society has become defined by one’s relationship to money, not by one’s relationship to the bureaucracy or one’s inherited caste status,” Mr Lankov writes.

As yet there are no visible signs of protest. There appear to be no covert human-rights groups, despite the estimated 200,000 political prisoners who fester in concentration camps, and no subversive intellectuals, as in the former Soviet Union. Ms Jeon says that it never once occurred to her to risk talking about regime change. Korean experts say the lack of resistance is not only the result of brainwashing. It is because North Korea’s tradition of oppression dates back to far before the Kims: for most of the first half of the 20th century its citizens were bossed around by the Japanese, and before that by a rigid monarchy. They know of little better.

There are, however, tentative signs of openness to the outside world. Groups like Choson Exchange, based in Singapore, and the Pyongyang Project, a Canadian-American NGO, have set up workshops with North Korean civil servants to discuss previously touchy subjects such as banking and finance. At times, the North Koreans’ ambitions seem unrealistic: in 2010 one group was asked to lecture on how to establish exchange-traded funds and private equity, in a country without deposit-taking banks. But contact is as important as content, says one of the groups’ leaders.

Pressure is also growing for other forms of engagement—especially ways around North Korea’s information blockade. Some North Korea-watchers welcomed the visit by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, to the country in January as a step forward. The BBC World Service, too, is being urged to develop a Korean-language channel. In such endeavours, experts say, information on other ways of life is more valuable than political indoctrination. Mr Lee, the defector, believes that information should be as high a priority as food aid. “It is only when people can tell the difference between truth and lies that their curiosity is stimulated,” he says. Curiosity may be what this obsessively secret regime most has to fear.

Source: The Economist, 02.09.2013

Jan 24 '13 - North Korea's New, Man-Made Famine

by Todd Crowell

TOKYO – Recent foreign visitors to Pyongyang are often impressed by the new construction that seems to be sprouting up everywhere in North Korea’s drab capital. New high-rise apartment buildings have been erected, department stores and theaters refurbished and even amusement parks and theme parks opened.

“Ever since Kim Jong-un assumed the position of supreme leader, the media in North Korea and visiting foreigners have reported on the beautifully developing capital, Pyongyang. But in the shadow of the ‘gorgeous’ capital a hidden famine has broken out,” says Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asiapress in Osaka, a North Korean watchdog with numerous clandestine reporters throughout North Korea.

The dark secret behind all of this new capital glitz and glamour has been a raging famine in the two Hwanghae provinces, where by some estimates 20,000 people have died of starvation in South Hwanghae alone in the year since Kim Jong-il died in December 2011 and was succeeded by his son and heir, the 29-year-old Kim Jong-un.

The Hwangwhe provinces, north and south, lie just south of the capital, between Pyongyang and the South Korean border. They are often said to be the “breadbasket” of North Korea, supplying food to both key elements of North Korea’s social order: The million-man army, many of them deployed along their southern border facing South Korea; and the capital, Pyongyang.

For the past year, however, these provinces have not been able to feed themselves, due in part to the demands of these two powerful groups. In particular the capital has required considerably more of the provincial agriculture output to feed the thousands of workers who were imported to work on the major construction projects underway for the past three to four years.

So to the familiar list of culprits of food shortages — floods followed by severe drought — can be added a political, and completely man-made, dimension that has not been seen as much in the previous food shortages that have plagued North Korea for the better part of the last decade.

The country has only limited resources of capital and foreign exchange, and much of these funds have been diverted to pay for elaborate entertainment complexes, including roller coasters from Italy and dolphins to stock a theme park instead of food. “You can see where Kim Jong-un’s priorities lie,” said Ishimura.

In order to consolidate his rule, the young Kim must have these two important elements of North Korean society on his side. That’s why, according to Ishimura, so much of the food from Hwanghae has been taken away for the “food for the army” and “food for the capital.” His organization reports on regime commissary officers ransacking villages and dwellings looking for hidden stockpiles.

The effort to turn Pyongyang into a showcase capital actually preceded the rise of the young Kim by several years. As far back as 2008, North Korea watchers, such as the news site, have reported on new construction in the capital and wondered where the money would come from to pay for it all.

The new buildings and restoration projects were aimed to coincide with the “Day of the Sun” celebrations honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korea’s founding dictator Kim Il-sung on April 15, 2012. Indeed, the elaborate funeral for Kim Jong-il, the birthday festivities and other celebrations of the Kim family have strained the country’s budget.

The exact number of people who have starved to death in Hwanghae is hard to pin down, but is likely in the tens of thousands, Ishimura says, based on reports from his own sources. There have also been numerous reports of cannibalism according to his sources on the ground. The situation is said to be worse than the “Arduous March,” the Korean term for the famine of 1994-1998.

“Kim Jong-un was photographed last summer with his wife visiting one of Pyongyang’s new theme parks, but as far as is known he has not visited the disaster areas just south of the capital or been photographed meeting with victims. Indeed, the government has apparently said nothing about the famine and done nothing to seek additional foreign food aid.

The younger Kim seems to have deliberately scuttled his chances of getting more foreign food assistance by his determination to launch long-range missiles in defiance of UN resolutions and world opinion. Washington declined to consider more aid in the wake of the April launching that fizzled; its position was reinforced by the successful launch in December.

South Korea’s new President Park Geun-hye’s position is somewhat ambiguous, but she too seems determined to link food aid to progress in dismantling North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. Since there is essentially no progress on these issues, the prospects for more immediate aid seem slim. Meanwhile, North Koreans continue to starve.

Source: RealClearWorld, 01.23.2013

Jan 2 '13 - North Korean Defector Arrivals Plunge in South in 2012

by Kwanwoo Jun

Associated Press: Chinese police work on a fence along the border with North Korea near Tumen in Jilin province, in a photo taken on Dec. 8, 2012.
(Chinese police work on a fence along the border with North Korea near Tumen in Jilin province, in a photo taken on Dec. 8, 2012.)

The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea after fleeing their impoverished and oppressive homeland fell sharply in 2012, apparently due to tightened border control.

The Ministry of Unification said 1,508 North Korean defectors arrived in South Korea last year, a preliminary figure that may be revised by next month when final count is reached.

The number is about half the 2,706 North Koreans who arrived in South Korea in 2011. It’s also the first drop below the 2,000-level since 2006.

The annual number peaked at 2,929 in 2009.

Few in Seoul see the latest data as a sign of North Korea turning into a better place to live in under Kim Jong Eun, the new leader who took power after his father Kim Jong Il died in late December 2011.

“That falling number doesn’t mean that economic conditions are getting better in North Korea,” said Kim Yong-hyun, professor at Seoul’s Dongguk University. “A number of people, who could no longer bear the hardship up in the North, have already fled the country, and those who have stayed behind are probably immune to the difficulties or able to find a way to survive the ordeal.”

More than 24,000 North Koreans have taken shelter in South Korea since an inter-Korean war ended in 1953, according to the unification ministry.

“The number of North Korean defectors arriving here fell sharply last year largely because of Pyongyang’s tighter border control,” a South Korean government official said, asking not to be identified. “The number will not likely bounce back anytime soon.”

China has also beefed up security along the Sino-Korean border and increasingly cracked down on illegal North Korean immigrants, said Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

“China’s tougher border-control and crackdowns on illegal North Korean immigrants may have stranded a number of potential North Korean candidates wishing to make it to South Korea, and forced them to hole up somewhere in China for a while,” Mr. Yang said.

For the North’s internal propaganda, the lower number of defectors arriving in South Korea is likely to please the young Mr. Kim’s regime.

“Maybe it is beginner’s luck,” Mr. Yang said.

Source: Wall Street Journal, 01.02.2013

Dec 16 '12 - North Korean Residents: 'What Good are Satellites?'

(Queuing for rice rations)

The North Korean government appears to be celebrating after it successfully launched a long-ranged missile. On the other hand, the response from the citizenry has been unenthusiastic. More worried about obtaining food, they ask, how would artificial satellites help them?

It is known that after North Korea announced the successful launch of “Kwangmyongsong-3,” its government made orders for a nationwide celebration.

On December 12th, on Radio Free Asia, one laborer in the border parts of North Hamgyong province, who works in a machine factory, said, “I found out on the 12th when the overseer ran in during lunchtime and said that the missile launch was a success. Our work for the afternoon was canceled and they told us to go out into the dance hall and dance. So we danced until late in the evening.”

He said, “From the broadcast cars parked all over the city, they kept broadcasting, ‘great satellite nation that launched a satellite.’ I guess they were told to make a big event out of it.”

The response from the citizenry has been bland, however.

According to the worker, the residents are skeptical of the usefulness of artificial satellites. He said, “Maybe the overseers are happy, but what good is that to us? Even when they were launching Kwangmyongsong-1, they said it would improve public life, but what’s changed since then?”

He added, “When they launched Kwangmyongsong-2 in 2009, they said they would relay television signals with the satellite but in our district, it’s been a while since we watched television because we don’t have electricity.”

Many residents were also unhappy that they had go out and dance in the middle of winter.

One college student from Shinuiju, North Pyeongan Province, said, “My college mobilized the youth and we danced, but how joyful can we be when our hands and feet are freezing?”

In the past five days, 20cm of snow fell on the areas on the western coast, including Pyongyang. Recently, the morning temperature in Shinuiju fell below -10 C°.

The student claimed, “They said the songs of Generals Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il will ring out from Kwangmyongsong-3, but the authorities told us the same thing 14 years ago.”

North Korean residents, having celebrated satellite launches in both 1998 and 2009, do not find the most recent one all that welcome. This is due to the fact that while North Korean’s government has been claiming to have successfully launched satellites for over 10 years, it has failed to give proof of the benefits.

Source: NKinUSA, 12.06.2012

Translated by ENoK

Dec 16 '12 - North Korea: in the Midst of the Rocket Launch, Number of Homeless Children on the Rise

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un flaunts the success of the recent rocket launch, but it is known that to this day, there are still many homeless children wandering the streets in the North.

One Pyongyang resident, who was visiting relatives in China, said: “The state-owned inns that shelter kkotjaebis (homeless children) are overflowing with them. In Pyongyang, the ‘Scientist Inn’ and the ‘Transmission Inn’ are the main shelters for kkotjaebis.”

He added, “The third floor of Scientist Inn, on Munsu Street, is an official housing area for kkotjaebis. The authorities keep them on the third floor to isolate them, so they can’t run away.”

The inspectors that catch and bring in the kkotjaebis keep watch over Pyongyang’s train stations and subway stations for this bewildering reason: “If kkotjaebis are caught on satellite images, it tarnishes the image of the Republic.”

Recently, Kim Jong Un, the First Secretary of the Worker’s Party, instructed that “Pyongyang be made a civilized city overflowing with the people’s laughter,” but actually, he gave orders to tighten the watch over kkotjaebis.

The Pyongyang resident who was interviewed said that “in the shelters, they give out 300 grams of flour and corn soup to each kkotjaebi per day, but if the children can’t adjust to a disciplined lifestyle and run away, they dispatch the inspectors and bring them back.”

“State-owned inns that have been neglected due to interruptions in business are being converted to shelters for kkotjaebis.” Outside of the capital, the situation is just as serious.

An American aid worker who recently visited North Korea revealed, “In Sariwon, Hwanghae Province, the children’s shelters and orphanages house several thousands of orphans.”

Last November, while opening the Mothers’ Conference, the North Korean government urged its female citizens to adopt more orphans. According to North Korean sources, “each representative in the Mothers’ Conference was given clothing fabric as a gift” and that “during this conference, the issue of raising orphans was debated very seriously.”

Source: NKinUSA, 12.16.2012

Translated by ENoK

Dec 8 '12 - Half of North Korean Defectors Are Victims of ‘Multilevel Sales or Voice Phishing’


North Korean defectors face difficulties adapting to their new lives in South Korea.

Reportedly, about half of them have been victims of multilevel sales or voice phishing.

I am Reporter Junhee Chung


(North Koreans Counseling Office of the National Medical Center)

Most people who visit here have lost their settlement funds after falling prey to multilevel sales or voice phishing activities.

INTERVIEW: A North Korean defector: “We don’t know much about the South Korean society when we first get out of Hanawon (resettlement training center for North Korean defectors in South Korea). You know how well-spoken South Koreans are. I was tricked by multilevel sales…”

According to a survey by the South Korean Consumers Center on 310 North Korean defectors, close to half of them, that is 147 or 47% of them, have been victims of multilevel sales or voice phishing.

Over 1/3 of these cases were brought upon by other North Korean defectors.

INTERVIEW: A North Koreans Counseling Office clerk: “We came over here together, and we of all people understand each other’s circumstances, so we doubt they would cheat us, and we trust them.”

Nevertheless, 36% of these victims do not pursue legal procedures for compensation, which is twice the rate for an average consumer in South Korea. This shows their passive attitude in asserting their consumer rights.

INTERVIEW: Yongsuk Park, a Responsibility Researcher from the South Korean Consumers Center: “They are not used to the concept of consumer rights, and they fear the disclosure of their identity as a North Korean Defector; they also do not want to be seen as incompetent people.”

The South Korean Consumers Center plans to propose to the government countermeasures that would prevent North Korean defectors from being victimized—for example, by expanding practical consumer education.

I am Junhee Chung from MBC News.

Source: MBC News, 12.03.2010

Translated by ENoK

Dec 8 '12 - North Korean Defectors Number above 20,000… Their Newly-Found Happiness



Today, we report on the brighter side of the North Korean defectors’ life.

We will hear from North Korean defectors who have successfully overcome many challenges and resettled in South Korea.

I am Reporter Hyogul Yang.


Fresh-made Pyongyang dumplings are steaming hot.

Some twenty North Korean defectors, working at a 120 square yard dumpling house, have no time for rest before piling orders.

This dumpling house markets its authentic “Northern” taste to attract the South Korean customers.

INTERVIEW: Haesoon Choi/defected in 2008: “I feel like really living now that I am working here.”

Changshin Kim, who defected ten years ago and started as a poong-uh-bbang (waffle stuffed with sweet red beans) vendor, is now the president of a recycled products business company.

According to Kim, the key to his success, in the face of cycles of failure and bouncing back in the last 10 years, was his determination to gradually work his way up from the bottom of the market economy.

INTERVIEW: Changshin Kim/defected in 2000: “It’s been 10 years. During that time, I gained the confidence that I can do everything. I don’t experience as much difficulty in finding jobs that fit my skills.”

Of course, the North Korean defectors’ assimilation isn’t just easy.

Both those with their own expertise and those with no education have difficulties in finding jobs.

Experts emphasize the need for policies that create a network supporting North Korean Defector support organizations.

INTERVIEW: Younghee Kim (a North Korean defector and a researcher in a government agency): “They need the support and advice of those who came before them, but that’s not working so well. So we need help from the government, organizations, and the society itself.”

With 20,000 North Korean defectors, South Korea needs a systematic framework that can aid and encourage the efforts of those who are struggling in their new lives.

I am Hyogul Yang from MBC News

Source: MBC News, 11.18.2010

Translated by ENoK

Nov 9 '12 - Starving North Koreans Storing Rice in Toilets

To avoid confiscation, residents hide rice in toilets
Insider says, “If you go out into the countryside and look what’s in the cooking pots… even animals can’t eat what’s inside”

by Kim So Jeong

In Hwanghae Province, government agents have been going from house to house and confiscating rice, an insider source revealed. After inspecting the harvest and searching the houses, they take away most of the rice to be used as army rations or as food for residents of Pyongyang.

According to the insider, farmers affected by the search and confiscation effort have attempted to hide some of their rice by wrapping it in plastic sheets and placing them in their toilets, but the police searched even the toilets and found the rice. It was said that these farmers are currently eating worse than animals.

The insider said, “Armed soldiers kept watch over the barns and then took away all the rice. The farmers kept some rice hidden by wrapping them in plastic and storing them in kimchi jars or even in toilets. But [the police] looked even there and confiscated the rice.”

This information was relayed personally by a regional official to a North Korean expat who was recently in North Korea to visit relatives.

This official has the role of traveling through farming areas and communicating the ideas of the Worker’s Party to the residents, it was said. Thus, he is well aware of the situation in the province.

He said, “That’s why in Hwanghae Province, they say, ‘When the rice is in the fields, it’s the farmer’s. When it’s cut, it’s the sorter’s. When it’s in the threshing place, it’s the overseer’s. When it goes to town, it’s the village Party secretary’s.’ There’s rampant corruption among the mid-level officials.”

People have also been saying things like, “Before, in farming areas, you could get 20, 30 kg of rice but now, it’s difficult to get even 1, 2 kg.”

The official also said, “If you go out into the countryside and look what’s in the cooking pots… even animals can’t eat that. During a foreign occupation, this would be understandable. But this is happening under our own government… there’s not one chicken here. If there are any animals, the monitor, the security chairman, and the village secretary take them as tribute. They took all the pigs, half a dozen of them, and they receive even the animal feed as tribute.”

(Mangyeongdae district, Pyongyang. Farmers harvesting at the Chilgol Professional Vegetable Farm.)

Relating to this, the source said, “Right now in North Korea, there’s no city that’s running properly. The industrial areas can’t supply the building materials, like cement and metal, so they make the farmers do it. During the March of Suffering, the Hwanghae Ironworks Factory even came and took our scrap metal.”

He said that residents were saying such things as this: “Kim Il Sung created fantasies in our heads, saying ‘I will have you eat steamed rice and meat soup, and live in tile-roofed houses, and wear silk clothes.’ Then Kim Jong Il fooled us, saying, ‘I will build you a strong and prosperous nation that is internationally powerful, where everything is good, where you can live without fear.’ Now his son says, ‘It is our Party’s firm determination to never allow our people to tighten their belts in hunger again, and to make sure that they enjoy the luxuries of socialism to their hearts’ content.’ As if we’d fall for that again.”

The official said, “Using words like ‘luxuries’ to people who say, ‘I just wish they’d fill our pockets even a little, so we don’t go hungry’ … Kim Jong Un only goes to nice places and doesn’t know how the people live.”

Regarding the March of Suffering, which began in 1997, he said, “Abroad, they think people starved because there were heavy rains in ’95 and ’96, which flooded the fields and reduced the harvest. But that’s not the truth. For the people in North Hamgyeong Province, Yanggang Province, and Jagang Province, it looks like the enormous sum of money spent during the World Festival of Youth and Students had little effect.”

He explained, “Before then, the economy had been deteriorating, and with such wasteful celebrations, the rations kept decreasing. From ’89 on, rationing in North Hamgyeong Province, Yanggang Province, and Jagang Province was totally cut off. At this point people started to starve, so the March of Suffering began not in the late ‘90s but at the end of the ’80s.

“I think I heard on a South Korean program that the national budget is about 25 billion dollars. I think perhaps, 20 to 30% go to idolizing the leaders. If they had money after Kim Il Sung died, they shouldn’t have spent it on idolizing him while people were suffering.

“We were used to receiving rations and getting help from the state. So after this happened, people who couldn’t move forward died. People who couldn’t do business died. This is not a natural disaster but a manmade one. I understand it in that light.”

The source said, “Right now, people in North Korea look at Kim Jong Un and said, ‘the son does exactly the same thing his father did.’ In front of Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum, there used to be a fountain. Kim Jong Il broke it up and paved over it. Now the son says, ‘This shouldn’t be paved. Plant trees and grass instead,’ and so they’re doing construction on it again.

“Doing such unproductive and uneconomical things, that is exactly why it’s so hard for people to live here.

“Currently in North Korea, there is not only the police but also a thing called the squad. Whenever there’s a disturbance, the squad acquires heavy machinery, machine guns, even tanks. Wherever there’s a disturbance, they crack down mercilessly. When the first level of suppression doesn’t work, troops come in and then you can’t do anything.

This is why in the outside world, people say, ‘North Koreans are so pathetic. Libya, Egypt, and Syria all rose up. In a country like North Korea, why don’t the people do anything?’ They don’t have any choice.” Still, “The authorities are hogging all of the nation’s wealth and oppressing the people. We can’t tell what will happen in the future.”

Source: Dailian, 11.09.2012

Translated by ENoK

Oct 24 '12 - Study: female N. Korean defectors suffer depression, sexual abuse

By Lee You-jin

Three out of every ten female North Korean defectors who arrived via a third country suffer from some form of depression, a study shows. The results also showed that the women suffered sexual abuse during their journey to South Korea.

The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced the findings of a study commissioned from the Yonsei University School of Social Welfare on Oct. 23. The study, which focused on the development of customized programs to assist abused female defectors in gaining self-sufficiency, examined 140 women between March and August of this year.

37 respondents, or 26.4%, were found to be suffering from depression, while another 80 (57.6%), showed signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sixty-four (45.7%) said they had considered suicide, engaged in suicidal behavior, or attempted suicide in the past year.

Ninety-eight (70%) were found to be suffering from chronic ailments such as stomach disorders, arthritis, and neuralgia.

Analysts attributed the physical and psychological symptoms to the women’s experience with sexual abuse and/or severe trauma. In particular, thirty-eight women were found to have been subjected to sexual abuse with direct physical contact while in North Korea, South Korea, or a third country, accounting for 27.1% of all participants. Defectors were found to have been threatened into sexual acts by the owner of a refuge in China, subjected to severe sexual harassment during a physical search after being sent back to North Korea, coerced into sexual acts by South Korean detectives, and abused by male acquaintances.

Forty-two of the women, or 30%, were found to have been encouraged to prostitute themselves in South Korea.

Over half the women were found to be receiving basic livelihood subsidies because of poverty – seventy-one (50.7%) of all participants. Thirty-eight (27.1%) of them had not found employment as of the time of the study. Another 58 (41.4%) were employed in temporary or day labor, with just twelve (8.6%) holding full-time jobs.

The responses also pointed to problems with occupational training during settlement in South Korea. Forty-one of the respondents who received it (29.3%) said it did not help them in settling down in South Korea.

Source: The Hankyoreh, 10.24.2012

Oct 22 '12 - Leaflets Sent by Balloon to North Korea Despite Ban, Activists Say

by Choe Sang-Hun

SEOUL, South Korea — Activists said on Monday that they had succeeded in sending large balloons drifting into North Korea carrying tens of thousands of leaflets, despite South Korean police efforts to block the action and a threat from the North Korean government to retaliate with a military attack.

The police cordoned off a street in the South Korean border city of Paju to stop activists from reaching the leaflet launch site.

The threat of a military clash prompted the South Korean authorities to block the activists, mostly defectors from the North, from reaching Imjingak, a border village northwest of Seoul, where they had planned to release the balloons. Hundreds of South Korean farmers living in nearby villages were ordered to go to bomb shelters, and the alert level was raised all along the border.

But the activists said later that they had eluded the police and released the balloons from an island west of Seoul instead.

It was not immediately clear whether the balloons successfully scattered the leaflets over the isolated North, where the government struggles to keep nearly total control on its impoverished populace and bristles at any intrusion of outside news or opinion. There was no immediate response from North Korea.

Activist leaflets typically discuss the vast gaps between the economies and living standards in the North and the South, include lurid accounts of the luxuries that the North Korean ruling family enjoys and contradict the North’s official history books, which claim that the Korean War was started by the United States rather than by the North’s invasion of the South in 1950. Some leaflets carry Christian messages.

“We could not delay our plans to send the leaflets, because they carry our promise and love for our North Korean brothers,” the activists said in a statement posted on the Web site of Free North Korea Radio, a Seoul-based group that seeks to broadcast outside news into the North.

Kim Seong-min, the head of the radio group and a leader of the leaflet campaign, criticized the South Korean authorities for blocking the activists from releasing balloons in the border village. “South Korea is retreating under a North Korean threat,” he said. “Once you retreat under this kind of blackmail, you will continue to be pushed back.”

The North Korean threat of retaliation, issued on Friday, was hardly unprecedented. In recent months, the North has threatened to attack the Seoul office of President Lee Myung-bak, whom it has called a rat, and vowed to bombard the offices of major newspapers and television stations in the South that criticize the North.

Still, South Korean police appeared to take the threat seriously, erecting roadblocks, banning tourists and journalists from the area, and scuffling briefly with activists who tried to barge through their cordon.

A rival group of activists rallied near the border village, carrying banners that accused the leaflet activists of trying to incite a war between the Koreas.

On Monday, Glyn Davies, the top American envoy on North Korean matters, told reporters in Beijing that it was grossly disproportionate for North Korea “to have threatened to respond to balloons with bombs,” The Associated Press reported.

China, the North’s main ally, welcomed the South Korean government’s efforts to check the balloon-flying and urged the Koreas to “stay calm and restrained.”

During the cold war, both Koreas used balloons to send official propaganda leaflets across their heavily fortified frontier, a practice that ended after the first inter-Korean summit meeting in 2000. But in recent years, some defectors began sending propaganda balloons of their own into the North. The latest episode came at a politically delicate time in South Korea, where a presidential election is due in December and the political parties are highly attuned to how a surprise North Korean move might affect the outcome.

Source: The New York Times, 10.22.2012

Translated by ENoK

Sept 26 '12 - North Korean refugees who choose a “world” other than South Korea – where are they and what are they doing?

The defectors aren’t only in South Korea. They live scattered all over the world – in China, of course, and also Southeast Asia, Europe, the US, and other places. It’s similar to the large-scale emigration of South Koreans that began in the early 20th century. This is why the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University refer to these scattered North Korean refugees as the “North Korean Diaspora.”

The situation report on defectors living abroad, recently published by the Institute, was also titled the “North Korean Diaspora.” Written by professors Park Myung Kyu and Kim Byung Ro, a total of five experts on North Korea contributed.

North Korean defectors scattered throughout the world… 581 in the UK, 146 in Germany, tens of thousands in China, Russia ~in total, hundreds of thousands.

The Ministry of Unification reports that by the end of December of 2011, 23,100 defectors had entered South Korea. Most of them are residing in South Korea. If so, how many are the defectors who live overseas?

While exact numbers are unknown, most estimates are over two thousand. According to a repot published last year by UNHCR, the annual total of North Korean defectors accorded international refugee status between 2001 and 2010 are as follows (in parentheses are the number of defectors accorded refugee status): 2001 (19), 2002 (259), 2003 (304), 2004 (343), 2005 (288), 2006 (398), 2007 (605), 2008 (886), 2009 (881), 2010 (917).

Of these defectors who were accorded refugee status, the largest population live in the UK. It was reported that 581 North Korean defectors lived there, as of 2010. The country with the second largest population of defectors is Germany. At the end of 2010, 146 of them were living there. Compared to the defector population of 276 in 2004, however, this number represents a reduction by nearly half. Regarding this, the report said, “In Germany, it is possible to apply for permanent residency five years after obtaining refugee status. For this reason, relatively many defectors move from refugee to permanent resident status.” The UK, on the other hand, requires that residents live there for at least 10 years before they apply for permanent residency.

In addition, at the end of 2010, the number of North Korean defectors in each country were as follows (in parentheses are the numbers of defectors): the Netherlands (32), Australia (25), the United States (25), Canada (23), Belgium (22), Norway (14), Russia (14), Denmark (9), Sweden (8), Ireland (6), Switzerland (4), Kyrgyzstan (3), Israel (2), Mexico (1), New Zealand (1), Yemen (1).

The country with the largest number of North Korean defectors is China. Different sources give different estimates, but we can expect a population around 20,000 – 100,000. In China, the number of defectors rose to as many as 30,000 in 1990, at the height of the North Korean famine. Since 1999, however, the numbers have been continually decreasing. These defectors in China have had significant influence on the change in thinking of North Koreans, the report suggests. It says, “At first (in the mid-1990s), many North Koreans defected because of economic hardship and starvation. Now, there are more who defect on account of information they’ve received about the outside world. They may defect, for example, after comparing conditions in North Korea to conditions outside, to find relatives who have defected, or to earn money in China.”

Other than these, there are also North Korean residents overseas who are categorized as “potential defectors.” There are more than 100 of these North Koreans in Japan, more than 700 in Mongolia, several hundred in Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, and 30,000-40,000 in Russia’s Primorsky Krai. Thus, if internal politics are not sufficient to drive sudden changes in North Korean society, these tens of thousands of overseas North Koreans may end up sparking them, instead.

Now, what kind of lives do they lead? Ever since the United States passed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, the numbers of defectors immigrating to America have been increasing every year. In March of 2011, the number of defectors entering the US was 119. Since these people entered with or without refugee status, the numbers differ from those reported by UNHCR. Starting with Joseph Shin, who entered the US with six other defectors in May of 2006, the numbers of those who acquire permanent residency have also been steadily increasing.

In Los Angeles, which has the largest population of Koreans, there were, as of September of 2008, more than 60 defectors. Defectors who obtain refugee status and reside in LA receive housing for $250, and for the first six months receive social security and health benefits of $500-600. They earn $1800-2000 monthly on average, women typically working at restaurants and men typically in maintenance. It is reported that there are also many defectors who earn $20,000-40,000 tri-monthly from construction work.

Mr. Shin, however, after struggling to adapt, committed suicide. Among the young people, many drop out of college and struggle to find long-term employment. For many, the American dream is only a rose-colored fantasy.

In Canada, instances of defectors receiving refugee status have been steadily increasing since 2008, as well. In 2009 and 2010, 66 and 42 defectors were granted refugee status, respectively. Canada grants the right to apply for refugee status to any defector who can show that he/she is a North Korean. The Canadian government has a strong interest in North Korean defectors. Defectors who apply for refugee status receive $1000 per household. They are also given the right to become citizens three years after they are recognized as refugees.

In the UK, many apply for refugee status but in reality, the incidence of obtaining refugee status has noticeably declined. This is because they have strict policies on “disguised exiles” that enter from South Korea. There are many cases where Korean Chinese, rather than North Korean defectors, have applied for refugee status. According to the report, in the summer of 2007, of those who applied for refugee status in greater numbers than North Korean defectors, 90% were Korean Chinese. Besides language issues, defectors in the UK suffer from problems in housing. This is because temporary shelters are generally located in areas with high crime rates.

As shown statistically, North Korean defectors do not rest their hopes only on South Korea. In their hearts, they also dream of America, Canada, Europe, and other advanced places. This is so because highly developed countries generally have greater interest in North Korea’s human rights issues and offer more organized assistance. It is clear, therefore, that in the future, North Korean defectors will continue to proceed not only to South Korea but also to these countries.

Accordingly, within the Korean diaspora of over 700,000 people, the role of the North Korean diaspora can only get larger in the process of re-unification of North and South, and the aftermath. Let us view these defectors scattered worldwide, not only as people to be aided and protected but also as the future of unified Korea, and from then on, the Koreans of the world.

The report emphasizes this point. “When North Korean defectors develop their own diaspora, they can pursue consolidated networks through 21st century means through collaboration with the existing Korean community. Those with intentions to form a complex political community based not on nation-states but on diverse categories and regions must prioritize such diaspora-like conditions.”

Source: NKinUSA, 09.26.2012

Translated by ENoK

July 12 '12 - Young North Korean Defectors Struggle in the South

by Martin Fackler

(Kim Seong-cheol, who fled North Korea, studying at his home near Seoul, in the South. Haunted by his past, he had initially dropped out of college.)

SEOUL, South Korea — Kim Seong-cheol is a survivor. He left his home in North Korea at the age of 8 for a Dickensian existence, begging on the streets with a pack of boys when famine struck and his parents could not feed him. By his account, he endured several stays in brutal North Korean and Chinese prisons for attempting to cross the border into China.

But when he finally made it to South Korea, and freedom, Mr. Kim faced an obstacle that even his considerable street smarts could not help him overcome. He had placed into a university under a new affirmative action program, but was haunted by the deprivations of his past and quickly slipped behind South Korean classmates who had already made it through years of an extremely competitive education system.

“I just couldn’t shake the memory of hunger from my mind,” said Mr. Kim, 26, who dropped out after just one semester and fell into a deep, alcohol-fueled depression.

Mr. Kim is part of a growing number of defectors who are making their way south — the number has increased sevenfold to 23,000 in the last decade — and posing a growing challenge for South Korea. Attempts at integration, including government-run crash courses on life in the capitalist South, have had mixed results, leaving many North Koreans unable to adapt to South Korea’s high-pressure society or overcome their stereotype as backward country cousins.

The government had hoped that education might close the chasm, offering piecemeal steps over the last decade that evolved into a full-fledged affirmative action program, which gives young North Koreans the chance to bypass grueling entrance exams to enter top universities. Now, even that stopgap measure appears to be failing as large numbers of North Koreans are dropping out, creating new worries that they and other defectors could become part of a permanent underclass.

“These children are simply not equipped for South Korea’s fiercely competitive society,” said Shin Hyo-sook, a specialist in education at the North Korean Refugees Foundation, a newly created government research institute. “They suffer identity issues due to their extreme experiences.”

The difficulties have come despite the fact that the government and universities have tried to give them an additional leg up, offering the approximately 500 defectors enrolled in South Korean universities free tuition, government-paid housing and living stipends. And the problems are likely to get more pronounced as defectors increasingly include whole families and children who left without their parents.

Officials say the difficulties tend to appear at university because it is the first time that the defectors, who are sent to special remedial elementary and high schools after arriving, find themselves in the same classroom with South Korean students.

Many South Koreans had assumed that a shared language and culture would help defectors ease past the educational gaps, but the defectors say the extra help is not enough to catch up with South Korean classmates who spent the evenings and weekends of their childhood at cram schools preparing for entrance exams. Most of the North Koreans, often from that nation’s lower social rungs, have at most a few years of elementary school education more focused on political indoctrination than reading and math, defectors say.

An even bigger challenge, educators say, are the defectors’ emotional problems. While South Korean officials say they have not concluded whether these children suffer cognitive deficiencies from malnutrition, they say the North Koreans often suffer depression, anger and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

What is clear is the result: education experts say that at many universities, half or more of North Korean defectors are dropping out, though the problem is so new that complete statistics do not exist. (The dropout rate among South Koreans is just 4.5 percent.)

One North Korean who barely avoided that fate is Kim Kyeong-il, whose family reached the South in its second attempt to defect seven years ago. After the first attempt, when he was 9, he says, he was thrown into a North Korean prison where he barely survived the beatings and starvation that claimed the life of his father. After arriving in the South at 17 and going to a special remedial school, he got a chance to enter Korea University, one of the country’s most prestigious schools. But he found himself way behind in English, which he was not taught in virulently anti-Western North Korea. He was even behind in Korean, having reached only the fourth grade in the North. In lectures, he did not understand the professors’ jokes about South Korean pop culture, but laughed anyway to avoid sticking out.

“I felt like someone from the 1970s who was put on a time machine and dropped in the 21st century,” said Mr. Kim, 24, a senior majoring in Chinese language. He said many of his classmates shun him for his northern accent, and for his small stature likely caused by inadequate nutrition.

He avoided dropping out by transferring to Seoul’s Yonsei University, another high-level university but one that has been cited as a model for the support it offers defectors.

The university offers its approximately 50 North Korean students free tutoring and psychological counseling, according to Jeong Chong-hun, a professor who advises the North Koreans there. “They risked their lives to seek freedom here, so it’s our obligation to help,” he said.

Still, he said some students grow so isolated or bitter that they skip classes, and even there, a third of the defectors do not finish school. One North Korean student at Yonsei committed suicide.

Kim Seong-cheol, the former street beggar, said his own feelings of intense isolation contributed to his leaving school. His relatively coddled classmates, he said, could not possibly understand the traumas that he had suffered — the wrenching decision to leave his parents to survive or the pain of being shocked with electric prods in prison camps. And they were unburdened by the nightmares that jolted him awake at nights, leaving him too exhausted to study. In the worst dream, he relived the death of his best friend, over and over. The boy died in front of him, choking on a stolen ball of rice as an angry merchant kicked him.

But after a year of heavy drinking and never leaving his government-paid apartment during the day, Mr. Kim decided it was not in his nature to give up.

He enrolled at a new school, Konkuk University in Seoul, and changed his major from computer science to real estate, in part because it seemed easier.

“I must succeed this time,” said Mr. Kim, now a junior. “But whatever I do here, I still always ask myself, ‘What am I? Where do I belong?’ ”

Source: The New York Times, 07.12.2012

May 24 '12 - Female student who escaped from North Korea four times achieves dream of studying in the US

by Lee Yong Su

“I wish with all my heart that you will survive within the North Korean system, no matter what.”

Park Hye Jin (fictitious name, female, 23 years old), escaped North Korea four times, was deported back three times, and reached South Korea in 2006. In a May 22th interview with Chosun Ilbo, she addressed the North Korean people this way. “International interest in North Korea’s human rights crisis is increasing, so please endure it a little longer,” she said.

After following her mother out of North Korea in 1998, Miss Park was forcibly sent back in 2000, 2002, and 2003. “At first I left because I was hungry, but after going to China a few times, I found myself thinking that there was something wrong with this country (North Korea). Even though there was only the Tumen River between them, the two countries were too different,” she said. “North Korea is lacking not only in rice and electricity; it lacks basic freedoms natural to a human being. That’s why I couldn’t stop leaving.”

^A promotional meeting of the ‘Forget-me-not association,’ held at the First Church of Chungdong on May 22nd. From left to right: Assemblywoman Park Sun Young of the Liberty Forward Party, who led the gathering; Honorary Secretary Kim Gil Ja of Kyung-In Women’s College; Lee Woo Yeol, representative of the Next-Generation Committee for the NKPs (North Korean persons); Park Hye Jin (fictitious name, right), North Korean defector and college student, receiving her certificate as the ‘First Forget-me-not Language Trainee.’


Miss Park has ahead of her eight months of language training in the United States. She was chosen as the first language trainee of the Forget-me-not association, which was launched to provide support for North Korean defectors, at its promotional meeting on May 22nd.

“Adjusting to life in South Korea, English is what we defectors struggle with most,” she said. “Through this opportunity, I want to learn English and also study American government and society.”

Miss Park’s goal, after returning from language training, is to enter a graduate program in education. “In North Korea, all education consists of brainwashing. We must tell defectors and, when the country is unified, to people in North Korea, ‘What you were taught up to now is wrong.’ To this end, I think it’s necessary that people like me become involved in education.”

After coming to South Korea, she enrolled as a first year in high school, at age 17. After obtaining her GED, she is currently a fourth year at Yonsei University, majoring in Political Science. She says that in adjusting to life in South Korea, the biggest difficulty was language.

She had expected the struggle with English, but our language posed an even bigger problem. Having spent nine years of her youth in China, her Chinese was fluent, but she had forgotten almost all Korean. Another challenge was getting over South Koreans’ habit of mixing Korean words with foreign vocabulary.

She said, “At Hanawon (a Ministry of Unification resettlement center), I did a lot of training, by repeating lines from South Korean dramas with chopsticks in my mouth. Afterwards, I had to practice on my own for several years before I could speak fluently.”

Regarding the recent controversy with the pro-DPRK movement, she said, “I don’t know whether they really love the North Korean system, or if they’re supporting it just because they can’t say ‘no’ to their old ideology.” Stating that “If they’re human, they could not think of a country with a starving populace as ideal,” she said, “If they really think that, they should go live in North Korea.”

Meanwhile, in the evening of the same day at the First Church of Chungdong, the Forget-me-not association, centered around Assemblywoman Park Sun Young of the Liberty Forward Party, held its promotional meeting.

This association, which was formed to maintain the strength behind the anti-forced repatriation movement that began last February, plans to promote various kinds of policy research and support activities to raise the quality of life for North Korean defectors and POWs, etc.

Kim Suk Woo (former undersecretary at the Ministry of Unification), an adviser for the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), who helped establish Forget-me-not, said, “the protest against forced repatriation that continued in front of the Chinese embassy for close to 100 days moved public sentiment on not only the national level but also the international level, and gave awareness to the seriousness of the human rights issues regarding defectors.” He explained further, “there is a significance to establishing Forget-me-not, which aims to amass this energy and convert it to an independent movement.”

Promoting Forget-me-not were a total of 126 people from various fields, including Kim Tae Yong the former Secretary of Defense Kim Tae Yong, Kwon Young Hae the former director of ANSP (Agency for National Security Planning), and Kim Tae Woo the director of KINU (Korea Institute for National Unification).

Source: Chosun Ilbo, 05.24.2012

Translated by ENoK

May 15 '12 - North Korean Human Rights Act – 2012 Reauthorization

On May 15, 2012, the House of Representatives approved the reauthorization of the North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA) until 2017. The NKHRA, which became law in October 2004, was previously reauthorized in 2008. The legislation addresses U.S. policy on issues including radio broadcasting into North Korea, humanitarian assistance to North Koreans within and outside of the DPRK, and North Korean eligibility for refugee status in the United States. NKHRA also established the position of Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights in 2004, and the 2008 reauthorization further outlined the scope of this position.

In addition to maintaining the Special Envoy position and other provisions, the reauthorizing legislation contains two notable changes. First, the new legislation adds a “Sense of Congress” clause calling for the U.S. to seek further cooperation with foreign governments to allow the United States to process North Korean refugees, and to urge China to halt the forcible repatriation of North Koreans and fulfill its obligations on refugees under international law.

Additionally, the Act’s annual authorized expenditure on assistance and protection to North Koreans outside of North Korea has been reduced from $20 million to $5 million annually. However, this will not result in any reduction in actual spending, as the State Department already has access to Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funds to pay for such assistance, and its spending of funds specifically allocated through the NKHRA has been minimal. The reduced allocation therefore reflects a change in how the Congressional Budget Office will score the bill, but not in actual spending.

The Senate passed the Act without amendment by a voice vote on August 2, 2012. The legislation re-authorizing the act is reproduced in full below:

Click on the link for the full text.

Source: National Committee on North Korea, 05.15.2012

April 18 '12 - China agrees to request and halts the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors

by Jang Sang Jin

According to the newspaper Yomiuri (賣讀), China accepted our government’s request and ceased the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

The newspaper, citing multiple sources in China, reported that while it is not clear when this new policy began, the Chinese government has halted the repatriation of North Korean defectors. According to this newspaper, one Liaoning official said, “Last December, after the death of Kim Jong Il, China forcibly sent back as many as 30 North Korean defectors almost every day. This has stopped.”

Another Chinese official said, “From the beginning, North Korea hid from China its plans to fire the missile on the 13th,” and suggested that the halt in repatriation was caused by China’s displeasure with “North Korea’s lack of consideration toward its ally.”

Until now, China had claimed to deal with refugees according to “national and international law, and humanitarian principles” but in actuality repatriated refugees whenever they were found, and had received criticism from the South Korean government and from the international community. However, China allowed 5 defectors, who had been under protection by the South Korean embassy for close to three years this month, to leave for South Korea.

At the Nuclear Security Summit which opened in Seoul at the end of last month, President Hu Jin Tao revealed to President Lee Myung Bak that he will respect South Korea’s position regarding the treatment of North Korean defectors, and it appears that he has begun to show a flexible stance toward this issue.

Source: Chosun Ilbo, 04.18.2012

Translated by ENoK

April 18 '12 - '31 hour fast for 31 people'... Chicagoans campaign against forced repatriation of North Korean defectors

by Kim Joohyun

Chicago Koreans who led the way in demonstrating against China’s forced repatriation policy plan to send an even stronger message this time, by fasting.

Since last month, they have protested in front the Chinese consulate-general three times. Between the 10th and the 11th, they will fast for 31 hours.

To symbolize the 31 defectors who were deported to North Korea this year, they are currently recruiting 31 participants and at least 31 sponsors. With the donations received during this time, they plan to give aid to North Korean defectors, including those residing in the United States. Also, during the fasting period, they will host an event to raise awareness with movie screenings at the University of Chicago. They plan to show ‘the People’s Crisis,’ a documentary containing actual footage of North Korean defectors being rescued, and the movie ‘the Crossing,” which depicts the process of defecting from North Korea.

Source: Korea Daily, 04.18.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 22 '12 - Opposition against Repatriation Policy Spreads in US

House of Representative Initiates a Resolution, NY, LA and Other Cities call for Presidential Intervention

A resolution urging the halt of the forced repatriation policy was initiated on the 20th from the House of Representative, reported by the U.S. Free Asia (RFA) on the 21st.

Chris Smith — the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and the Health and Human Rights Subcommittee on Africa and the World – motioned the resolution and Ed Royce – the chairman of House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade — cosponsored.

The resolution urged an immediate halt to the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors in accordance with the International Refugee Protection Agreement. Also, the resolution accused the Chinese government for automatically illegalizing refugees due to the economic reasons. Thus it demanded an unrestricted customary access to the defectors in accordance with regulations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Representative Royce said, “This resolution will deliver a strong message to the Chinese government. Chinese authorities’ policy of forced repatriation of defectors must be ceased.”

That same day, protests took place simultaneously in front of the Chinese Embassies and Consulates in Washington DC, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities throughout the United States.

In Washington DC, Suzanne Scholte, the representative for the North Korea Human Rights Coalition, and 30 others met in front of the White House and recited a letter to the President Obama asking for his diplomatic influence to cease the repatriation policy. Then they moved to the Chinese Embassy and demanded to halt the forced repatriations of North Korea defectors.

They denounced its repatriation policy by emphasizing China’s membership of the International Refugee Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and stressed the unfortunate fates – often torture and execution – of the refugees when they are repatriated back to North.

20 people including Ma Young-Ae, the president of American chapter of Mission for the North Korean refugee, Han Chang-Yeon, the president of the Korean community of New York, and Lee Hyun-Taek, the president of the Korean community of New Jersey, protested in front of the Chinese Consulate General in New York as well.

In Los Angeles, 60 people from the Protecting Free DaeHan Campagin Headquarter and other human rights groups met up in front of the Chinese Consulate to demonstrate against the forced repatriation policy.

They staged an event of delivering a letter to the President Hu Jintao by pushing it beneath the front door of the Chinese Consulate.

In Chicago, more than 70 people, including president Sung-Hwan Hong and members of North Korean human rights group, Emancipate North Korean, marched up to the Chinese Consulate and urged to halt the forced repatriation policy. They also recited a letter to the President Hu Jintao.

President Hong of the Emancipate North Koreans contacted human rights groups in the community making the protest possible.

Source: Daejeon Ilbo, 03.22.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - Protest against the Repatriation Policy in front of the White House, 'Save North Korean Refugees'

International communities’ efforts to stop China’s policy on forced repatriation of North Koreans refugees continue. Today, the 21st, the efforts even led to a protest in front of the White House.

Washington DC correspondent Lee Sang-Bok has the story.

Flock of people carrying the pickets gathers in the back of the White House.

The placards contain earnest appeals of the attendees, “Save North Korea Refugees” or “Only Death Waits Back in the North”.

Elderly men carry a coffin, a symbolism of executed North Koreans after the forced repatriation.

The protesters gathered in front of the White House in hope that the President Barack Obama will exercise his diplomatic influence.

Today’s protest was intended to raise an important awareness about the North Korean defectors as the President Obama plans to attend the Nuclear Security Summit next week in Seoul.

President Obama is scheduled to meet the President Hu Jintao at the Summit.

The protesters marched around the White House Plaza for more ten times, then they redirected themselves to the Chinese Embassy.

However, the doors were locked tightly

The letter of appeal to the President Hu Jintao was then pushed between the cracks of the doors.

They then moved to the South Korean Embassy and delivered a letter to the President Lee Byung-Park.

They believe at soon as the interest of the North Korean issue fades away, the future for refugees fades as well.

Meanwhile, the House of Representative has initiated a resolution to stop the forced repatriation of the North Korean defectors today.

Source: JTBC, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - Protest to 'Halt the Repatriation of North Korean Defectors' held in Washington DC, New York and other major cities in America

Protest against the repatriation policy of China took place in front of the Chinese Embassy or Consulate General of Washington DC, New York and other major cities in the US simultaneously.

Suzanne Scholte, a chairwoman for the North Korea Freedom Coalition, and 30 other protestors in Washington DC recited a letter of appeal to the President Obama who, they believe, has the diplomatic power to overturn the repatriation policy. Then they moved to the Chinese Embassy to demand the halt of the repatriation.

The protest continued in front of the Chinese Consulates of Manhattan in New York and of Los Angeles.

In Chicago, more than 70 attendees, members of the North Korean human rights organization, marched up to the Chinese Consulate and recite a letter to the President Hu Jintao demanding to halt the forced repatriation of the North Korean defectors.

Source: SBS News, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - Protest against the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors in major cities in the US

On the 20th (local time) protests against the forced repatriation policy occurred simultaneously in front of the Chinese Embassy and Consulates of major cities of United States – including Washington DC, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago.

In Washington DC, 30 attendees, including Suzanne Scholte the representative for the North Korea Human Rights Coalition, met in front of the White House and recited a letter to the President Obama asking for his diplomatic influence to stop the repatriation of the North Korean defectors. Then they moved on to the Chinese Embassy and demanded a halt on the forced repatriations.

They denounced the Chinese government of its repatriation policy by reminding China’s membership of the International Refugee Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and by discussing the unfortunate fate of torture and executions of the refugees when they are repatriated to the North.

20 people — including Ma Young-Ae, the president of American chapter of Mission for the North Korean refugee, Han Chang-Yeon, the president of the Korean community of New York, and Lee Hyun-Taek, the president of the Korean community of New Jersey — protested in front of the Chinese Consulate General of New York as well.

In Los Angeles, 60 people from the Protecting Free DaeHan Campagin Headquarter and other human rights groups met up in front of the Chinese Consulate to demonstrate against the forced repatriation.

They staged an event of delivering a letter to the President Hu Jintao by pushing it through beneath the front door of the Chinese Consulate.

In Chicago, more than 70 people – including president Sung-Hwan Hong and members of North Korean human rights group Emancipate North Koreans – marched up to the Chinese Consulate and urged to halt the forced repatriation. They also recited a letter to the President Hu Jintao.

The simultaneous protest of Chicago region took place by president Hong of the Emancipate North Koreans as he contacted human rights groups in the community.

Source: Sports Chosun, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - Protest Against Repatriation of North Korean Defectors Occur in Major US Cities

United efforts to denounce the repatriation of North Korean defectors occurred in Washington DC, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities in the US in front of the Chinese Embassies and Consulates.

In Washington DC, more than 30 people — including the representatives of the North Korea Human Rights Coalition Suzanne Scholte – met in front of the White House and read a letter to President Obama asking for his diplomatic influence to stop repatriating detained refugees. Then they moved to the Chinese Embassy to demand a halt of the forced repatriation policy.

Ma Young-Ae, the president of the American chapter of Mission for the North Korean Refugee, Han Chang-Yeon, the president of the Korean community of New York City, and 20 others protested in front of the Chinese Consulate General in Manhattan.

60 members of human rights organizations protested in front of Chinese Consulate General in Los Angeles.

In Chicago, 70 people from North Korean human rights groups marched up to its Chinese Consulate reciting a letter to the President Hu Jintao demanding a halt of its repatriation policy.

Source: SBS News, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - ‘Halt the Forced Repatriation’ protest in Washington DC

With a protest to halt the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors, an event to deliver a letter to the President Hu Jintao occurred in Washington DC.

More than 40 members and devotees of the North Korea Freedom Coalition (chairwoman Suzanne Scholte) — symbolic North Korean human rights group in the US — Liberties Union of Korea and America (governor Gang Pil-Won), Korean American Association of Virginia (president Hong Il-Song), and Virginia Pilgrim Church (pastor Son Hyeong-Sik) gathered in front of the White House to pled to the President Barack Obama for more diplomatic attention to the problem of China’s forced repatriation of North Koreans.

Pastor Yi He-Mun, the vice president of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, recited a letter, which was later delivered to the President Obama. The pastor said, “We urge President Obama to ask Chinese President Hu Jinato to give up the policy of forced repatriation.”

After the protest in front of the White House, participants then staged a silent protest marching around the Chinese Embassy with a coffin symbolizing deaths of the repatriated defectors.

They particularly wanted to deliver a letter to the President Hu Jintao through the Embassy, but the door was shut tight making the chairwoman Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition to push an envelope through the cracks between the doors.

Later, they moved to the South Korean Embassy to deliver a letter, which was passed on to the Embassy worker, to the President Lee Myung-Bak asking President Lee’s continual effort in the problems of North Korean refugees.

Suzanne Scholte of the North Korea Freedom Coalition said, “I hope the Nuclear Security Summit (held in Seoul next week) can discuss the problems of the North Korean defectors in China, too. North Korea’s missile test is an important issue, but the political shift in the North is causing an extreme chaos in the society creating higher needs of attention to the human rights issues of the North Koreans right now.”

Meanwhile, in addition to the DC protest, human rights groups in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles held the similar protest in front of Chinese Consulate Generals.

Source: Dongpo News, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - New York and other cities denounce China's repatriation policy

New Daily: In the US, “Protest to Halt the Forced Repatriation” spreads… “Obama’s turn to speak up!”

The problem of the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees spreads in United States as well.

On the 20th (Local Time) protests denouncing the forced repatriation policy of North Korean defectors in China were held instantaneously in large cities throughout the United States such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington DC.

The North Korea Freedom Coalition chairwoman Suzanne Scholte and 30 other representatives demonstrated in front of the Chinese Embassy in DC urging Chinese government to halt the repatriation policy.

They pointed out the Chinese government’s formal membership of the International Refugee Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and argued refugees’ fate of torture and executions after repatriation.

They have also staged a silent protest around the embassy carrying a coffin symbolizing the deaths of the defectors after the forced repatriation.

Earlier, they gathered in front of the White House reading a letter to the President Barack Obama urging him to exercise a diplomatic stimulus to prevent the repatriation of defectors detained in China.

Chairwoman Scholte said, “The political shift in the North is causing an extreme chaos in the society creating higher needs of attention to the human rights issues of the North Koreans right now.”

Then she added, “I hope the Nuclear Security Summit (held in Seoul next week) can discuss the problems of North Korean defectors in China as well.”

50 participants from the Korean American Association of Greater New York gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manhattan and argued, “China ignores the international law and disregards the human rights of the refugees. Chinese authorities’ activities of arresting and repatriating North Koreans must be halted immediately.”

They continued by saying, “Repatriated refugees are left to face inhumane and miserable situations. If China wants the trust of the international community, then they have to grant the North Korean defectors with refugee status and handle them in respect to the international law.”

Later, they staged a performance of a Chinese guard hauling hand-tied North Korean refugees.

Ma Young-Ae, president of the American chapter of Mission for North Korean Defectors, said, “…indifferent attitude towards dying refugees needs to be stopped. This is not only a problem for Korea or America; it is a problem for the international community to solve together.”

60 representatives from the Protecting Free Dae-Han Campaign Headquarter and other human rights organizations gathered in front of the Chinese consulate general of Los Angeles, shouting, “stop the forced repatriation and build refugee camps.”

They staged a tragic scene of tying and lugging a North Korean defector and then tossed a letter to the President Hu Jintao over the fence of the Chinese Consulate General.

In Chicago, more than 70 people, including community’s Emancipate North Koreans’ president Hong Sung-Hwan, met in front of the Chinese Consulate General to demand a halt in the repatriation policy. Then they read out loud a letter to the President Hu Jinato.

President Hong of the Emancipate North Koreans contacted human rights groups in the community making the protest possible.

Source: NewDaily, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - Protest to Stop the Repatriation of NK Defectors from Major Cities in the US

Simultaneous protest to stop the forced repatriation of the North Korea defectors took place in Washington DC, New York, LA and other major cities in the United States in front of the Chinese Embassy and Consulates.

Today in Washington DC, North Korea Freedom Coalition chairwoman Suzanne Scholte and 30 other participants gathered in front of the White House and urged the President Obama to exercise his diplomatic strength to stop repatriating the detained North Koreans in China. Then they moved to the Chinese Embassy and demanded a halt on the repatriation policy.

Ma Young-Ae, the president of the American chapter of Mission for the North Korean Defectors, and 20 attendees protested in front of the Chinese Consulate General in Manhattan as well as 60 people in LA who demonstrated in front of the Chinese Consulate urging a halt in the repatriation policy.

Source: KBS News, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 21 '12 - New York and other cities denounce China's repatriation policy

Protests against the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors were held in Washington DC, New York and other major cities in the US.

Cities’ local Korean-Americans and human rights groups said the protest will be resumed until China halts the policy.

Lee Jae-Yun correspondent in New York reports the story.

More than 30 protesters — North Korean refugees and members of human rights groups — have gathered in front of the Consulate General of the Republic of China in Manhattan to denounce the forced repatriation policy.

A performance of a Chinese security guard hauling tied North Korean defectors was given at the rally to represent the injustice of China.

Demonstrators urged an immediate halt on arresting and repatriating the defectors.

They also argued China’s place in the international community. They believe in order for China to be recognized by the international community, they have to grant the refugee status to the defectors and handle their cases in accordance with the international law.

[Yong-Ae Ma, North American chapter of Missions for North Korean defectors]
“We have to stop ignoring the deaths of the refugees. This is not only a problem of South Korea or of the US. I think this is an important issue for the international community to respond and solve.”

The protestors spoke up about the inhumane situations defectors face when they are repatriated to the North.

[Hye-Mi Shin, an university student]
“Through this demonstration, I hope many college students can stand up for the defectors to stop the pain caused by the forced repatriation…”

The protests, like the one in New York, took place in five other cities around US — Washington DC and LA — at the same time.

Leaders of the protest, Korean-Americans and members of human rights groups who helped the North Korean refugees, insisted that the protest must continue until China cease its policy.

For YTN, Jae-Yun Lee in New York.

Source: YTN, 03.21.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 20 '12 - Protest Against the Repatriation of North Korean defectors in 4 cities in the US

Chinese government’s measure of the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors has started the outcries within the four major cities in the US, including Washing DC. The protestors especially in front of the White House have urged the President Obama to speak in behalf to halt this forced repatriation to President Hu Jintao.

Reporter Kim YongKwon has the story.

Representatives from the North Korea Freedom Coalition, a DC-based human rights organization, and Korean-American community groups have gathered in front of the White House on the 20th. They have formulated an assembly to speak against the forced repatriation of defectors and read a letter of appeal to the President Barack Obama.

They urged the President Obama to speak to the President Hu Jintao about halting the repatriation policy next week as they both attend the Seoul Nuclear Security Summit.

They emphasized the equal treatment of human rights issue as well as the nuclear weapon issue.

Suzanne Scholte, a chairwoman for the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said the purpose of the rally is to alert President Obama about the urgency of the repatriation policy.

President Lee BuyngPark and UNHCR both have request to stop the repatriation yet it still continues urging President Obama’s turn to step in.

Chairwoman Scholte said since the Korean-Americans of other cities in the US have started the protest together, she believes Obama’s love for Korea and Korean-Americans will resonate him hear out their cries.

Dozens of members and devotees of the Korea-America Freedom Coalition and of Korean churches around the city have attended the rally.

This is the speech from Korea-America Freedom Coalition president Pil Won Kang.
“One of the many purposes of this rally is to unite the Korean-American community with one voice and with one heart.”

Some of the attendees wore black devil costume — symbolizing the “depravity” of China — and circled the White House Square seven times carrying a coffin — symbolizing the victims of the North Korean refugees.

Nancy, an attendee of the event, drove 3 hours from Pennsylvania to participate in the rally. She said President Obama should pay closer attention to the lives of these defectors.

Nancy have written “NK Life” on the mask she wore to symbolize the life of North Korean as she appeal for the protection of the lives of North Koreans refugees. She also attended the rally with a dog symbolizing the Chinese police dogs that catches North Korean refugees.

The rally was conducted first with a silent march, due to the protest regulation of the White House, and later with the reciting the letter of appeal to the President Obama.

Then attendees turned to the Chinese Embassy and rallied then recited the letter of appeal to halt the forced repatriation of defectors.

They also stopped by the South Korean Embassy and delivered a letter to President Lee asking him to continue his work on helping North Korean refugees. They have also sent a similar letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

In addition to Washington DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles human rights activists protested in front of Chinese Consulates.

For VOA, I’m Young Kwon Kim.

Source: Voice of America, 03.20.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 20 '12 - Letter to President Obama: 'Stop Forced Repatriation'

[ANC] In order to stop forced repatriation of North Korean defectors detained in China, North Korean human rights organizations in America and Korean-Americans rallied and delivered letters to leaders in related departments.

I am Reporter Albert Hong.

A coffin that symbolizes the death of North Korean defectors who have been sent back to North Korea passes by the White House in Washington DC.

Following the coffin are members of North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), the representative North Korean human rights group in America as well as Korean-Americans, holding pickets reading “Please Save North Korean Defectors in China.”

On the 20th, NKFC urged the stopping of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors with 40 other people including members of Korean-American Freedom Federation and Korean-American Association in Virginia as well as Pilgrim Church in Virginia.

Reverend Heemoon Lee, the Vice-President of NKFC appealed in a letter to President Obama to help stop China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors in China.

[Reverend Heemoon Lee, Vice-President, NKFC] “We are urging President Obama to meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao to request that China give up the policy of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.”

The letter to President Obama will be sent by mail. The demonstrators appealed to President Obama that he will bring up the issue of North Korean defectors to President Hu Jintao during the Nuclear Security Summit that will be held in Seoul, South Korean next week.

The demonstrators, when they were done at the White House, moved to the Chinese Embassy in Washington DC and criticized the Chinese government and urged to stop forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

The demonstrators tried to hand-deliver the petition to President Hu Jintao, but the Chinese Embassy officials did not open the door for them, so they slid the petition under the door and continued to demonstrate before the embassy.

When the demonstrators moved the the South Korean Embassy afterwards, they delivered the letter to President Lee Myungbak to an embassy official, and Suzanne Scholte, the president of NKFC appealed to the president that he continue to take interest in the issue of North Korean defectors.

[Suzanne Scholte, President, NKFC] “This letter expresses gratitude from the members of NKFC and 70 other human rights groups toward President Lee Myungbak for his leadership and asks him to continue to try to rescue North Korean defectors and improve the human rights situation in North Korea.”

Regarding North Korea’s recent plan to test-launch a missile, Suzanne Scholte said that it is a similar strategy as in the past, and all the more reason we must pay attention to the issue of North Korean defectors and North Korea’s human rights problem.

[Suzanne Scholte] “This missile launch plan is to threaten the people of the world. North Korea is in a very unstable state as the power is shifting to Kim Jungun, which may give rise to even more human rights violations, so we must pay attention to the human rights problem more.

Meanwhile, NKFC plans to send a similar letter to the UN Secretary-General, Ban Kimoon in order to urge the solve the problem of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Source: Radio Free Asia, 03.20.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 20 '12 - From New York to LA, 'Stop the Repatriation of North Korean Defectors'

by Hyoung-jae Kim

After the Chinese government’s massive repatriation measures of North Korean defectors drew the worldwide interest, Korean-Americans of LA, New York and other major cities around the US started to protest on the 20th in front of the Chinese Consulate Generals to urge for a halt of the repatriation measures.

The Citizens’ Group of North Korean Human Rights Freedom of LA, North American chapter of 3.1 Women Dongji Group, Protecting Freedom of Daehan Campaign Headquarter (Jagookbon for short), EBokDo Citizens Group and 13 other citizens groups’ 40 representatives have met at the Chinese Consulate General located in LA Koreatown and protested to stop the repatriation and to urge for an acknowledgement of the North Koreans’ refugee status. They shouted and shook their placards in front of the Consulate to urge for a protection of human rights. Afterwards, they’ve submitted a petition to the President Hu Jintao, which was passed on to the Consulate General.

Jagookbon’s president Bong-Gun Kim said, “The refugees have crossed the border because of hunger. So the Chinese government should hear out the cries of these Koreans as they seek to go to South Korea or other third countries.”

President of North American chapter of 3.1 Women Dongji Group Eun-Suk Park read out loud the petition letters intended for the South Korean, the United States, and the Chinese government and commented that “President Hu Jintao should step up and end the tragedies of North Korean defectors who face deadly punishments after the repatriation.”

As the Korean-Americans protested, the Chinese Consulate guards closed the front gate and watched the event as it unfolded.

LA community groups will continue the demonstration on every Thursday until the end of April at 2pm in front of the Chinese Consulate.

Source: the Korea Times, 03.20.2012

Translated by ENoK

Mar 17 '12 - Korean-American Community Groups send letter to 3 different countries protesting repatriation of North Koreans.

Korean-American community organizations sent a petition to three different country’s government agencies to stop the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Los Angeles Korean community groups have written pleading letters to the United States, the Chinese, and the South Korean government to denounce the forced repatriation policy.

North Korean Freedom Human Rights Citizen’s Organization of Los Angeles (President Jin Kyo Reun) and 10 other LA Korean community groups have jointly signed the letter to urge the protection of the North Korean defectors’ human rights and delivered it to the South Korean, the Chinese and United States government agencies on the 16th (Korean Time).

In the letter, the community groups have emphasized human rights of the North Korean defectors signifying the need to stop the repatriation policy. It also insisted the Chinese government to grant the refugee status to the defectors in accordance to the international law.

The groups have promised to demonstrate in front of the Chinese Consulate Generals of major cities within the United States – including Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Huston – to speak against the repatriation of North Korean defectors on the 20th.

Source: SBS News, 03.17.2012

Translated by ENoK

Feb 25 '12 - The Tumen Detention Camp of Hell

The Station Before Being Sent Back to North Korea…Testimony of Two North Korean Defectors

The Detention Camp in Tumen City, Jilin Province. If you cross the neighboring Tumen River, you are in North Korea. This border management office in the northeast area of China is the last gateway you pass through to reach North Korea. Recently, there were nine North Korean defectors sent to this detention camp from Yanji, China, and then sent back to North Korea.

Choi Joo-hyuk (an alias, 25 years old), a defector from North Korea, who arrived in South Korea in 2010, spent three months at the Tumen Detention Camp in 2002. Choi, a native of North Hamgyong Province, told us how he escaped from North Korea, was captured, sent back to North Korea, put into forced labor, and was finally able to re-escape. When Choi was fourteen, he lost his parents and his younger brother due to famine. Choi heard that his mother’s relative was in Yanbian, China, so he crossed the border into China but was caught by Chinese public security and sent to Tumen Dentention Camp.

At the Tumen Detention Camp, he was placed with 17 other North Koreans who had attempted to flee North Korea. Ranging from an old man to a young girl, the 17 others were caught on their way to Vietnam, and after torture, they admitted to being headed in the direction of South Korea. These people cried every night because they knew they would die after crossing the border back into North Korea.

After that, Choi tried to escape again, but after getting caught again, he spent three years in a detention camp. During this time, he witnessed someone drown in a pool of feces while shoveling the feces from being so fatigued from starvation. He stated, “the most horrific punishment was being tied to a post to be shot 7-8 times from the head down as a form of public execution.” However, he added that “it’s still better than living in North Korea, which is why people still try to escape.”

Ryu Sun-ja (an alias, 47 year old female) was able to reach South Korea in 2005 after three attempts; however, in 2002, she was also detained at the Tumen Detention Camp for about a month. During this time, she suffered from great fear of being sent back to North Korea. Also, the security officers of the camp treated the defectors like prisoners, even forcing the men to shave their heads. When the Chinese public security set the day of repatriation, three officials from North Korea’s Defense Department crossed the Tumen River, and the detained defectors were handed over to the three officials.

Ryu explained that the Chinese government waited until they captured at least 100 North Korean defectors from Yanji to repatriate the defectors. If the repatriation happened quickly, it was a sign that there were many captured defectors. She stated that if the recent defectors were returned to North Korea, their punishment would become a warning to others wanting to flee North Korea. Because she is sure that a public execution would take place, she believes the repatriation should be stopped.

The violation of North Korean defectors’ human rights in other Chinese prisons is as serious as the repatriation of North Koreans at the Tumen Detention Camp. Ryu shed tears at the memories of being tortured at the Yanji prison before being transferred to the Tumen Detention Camp. She said that after being tortured to near death, the defectors are forced to sign a paper that is no different from sentencing themselves to death; the paper is an admittance that they tried to escape to South Korea. Using that document as proof, the Chinese security personnel classify them as “illegal aliens” and send them back to North Korea.

Usually the Chinese public security personnel that questions the defectors at the prison in Yanji is someone of Korean descent. These people speak Korean to the defectors, but they hit the defectors with wooden sticks for no reason at all. If they resisted, the prison personnel hit them in the knee with an electric club. Ryu said that even the sturdy men would fall on their face from being hit. Ryu claimed that she endured all the pain by thinking, “I must survive for the two children I left behind in North Korea.”

Meanwhile, Choi Sung-yong, the president of Families of Abductees by North Korea, stated that on the 20th of last month, there were 56 defectors transferred from various places, now waiting in the Tumen Detention Camp to be sent back and that the expected date of repatriation is the 28th or 29th of this month.

Source: JoongAng Ilbo, 02.25.2012

Translated by ENoK

Feb 25 '12 - International Pressure Must Be Placed On the Issue of Repatriation of North Korean Defectors

As reports that China repatriated North Korean defectors came out, domestic and foreign criticism of the Chinese government is building up greatly. Yesterday, South Korea’s Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Unification Committee unanimously adopted a resolution stating that the South Korean government urges China to halt the forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. South Korea plans on clarifying their position on the defectors being held in China next week at the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which starts next week. In the past, even with a passive diplomacy in regards to China, South Korea has been able to stop the repatriation of North Korean defectors and has been able to attempt to bring them to South Korea. However, starting three years ago, China has refused to cooperate.

Recently, Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights (North Korea) urged countries neighboring the Korean peninsula to follow the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UN Convention on Refugees), which states that forced repatriation of refugees is prohibited. North Korean defectors living in South Korea have been appealing to Hu Jintao (the president of China), Michelle Obama (the first lady of the US), Hillary Clinton (the Secretary of State of the US), and others to stop the forced repatriation, and Koreans have been demonstrating in front of the Chinese Embassy located in South Korea daily. Cha In-pyo, a South Korean celebrity, has also joined in demonstrating against forced repatriation. Even Chinese citizens are starting to criticize their government’s policies. The problem of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors has never drawn this much attention.

Still, there is only a small chance that China will modify its policy on repatriating North Korean defectors. Rather, by repeatedly clarifying that they refuse to classify North Korean defectors as refugees, China is amplifying concerns. China is acting this way even though it has been brought up many times that repatriated defectors will suffer torture, public execution, among other punishments. Currently, there does not seem to be an alternative to strengthening the international pressure on China to change China’s position on the North Korean defectors.

We must find a way to keep the North Korean defectors problem a long-term and continuous issue. The South Korean government must also evaluate plans to show that the North Korean defectors in China are South Korean nationals. The South Korean government must do this even if it may not be very effective because, in themselves, the plans can become a means to pressure the Chinese government. Also, the South Korean government should request other nations to help in the quest to convince the Chinese government. Or, the South Korean government can think of ways to support civilian activities that aid North Korean defectors. The human rights problem that stems from China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors is already past beyond worrying about diplomatic conflicts that may come between South Korea and China.

Source: JoongAng Ilbo, 02.25.2012

Translated by ENoK

Feb 25 '12 - The US Insists that China Stop the Forced Repatriation of Captured North Korean Defectors

South Korea’s National Assembly Agrees Through a Unanimously Passed Resolution
However, China Remains Silent When Asked About the North Korean Defectors

America has indicated their worries to the Chinese government about the transfer of the recently captured North Korean defectors and insisted that they forbid the forced repatriation of the defectors. This is the first time that the North Korean defectors problem has been blown up to an issue between China and the United States. According to an anonymous high-ranking diplomat, on the 24th, “through a diplomatic channel, America told China that they must follow the international refugee agreement and approach this problem from a humanitarian perspective” and “China should deal with the human rights issues of North Korea as a responsible member of the international society,.” It has not been reported how China responded to these statements.

Also, the South Korean government is planning on giving a speech to prohibit the repatriation of the North Korean defectors at the United Nations Human Rights Committee in Geneva, which start on the 27th of February. On February 19th, the international community came to focus in on China after the South Korean government turned the repatriation issue into a potential foreign relations problem between South Korea and China.

The South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Kim Sung-hwan, attended the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Unification Committee and stated, “Over time, we have consulted with the Chinese government to set up measures regarding North Korean defectors. However, because the effectiveness has been weak, we have been requesting more strongly that the Chinese government comply with the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (UN Convention on Refguees) while trying to invite the United Nations Human Rights Committee and countries that are helping South Korea to bring up this issue as well.” The Foreign Affairs Office explained, “This means that we will strengthen our cooperation with the EU and other countries that are interested in the human rights issue in North Korea.”

It has been brought up that pressure from the American government may cause China to stiffen even more; China may choose to forgo any discussion about the North Korean defectors with South Korea. An associate of the South Korean Foreign Affairs Office stated, “China may ignore the worries of the international community and deal with the North Korean defectors more firmly in resolve.” However, “the internal conflict, arising from some people thinking that South Korea has been too passive with regards to China’s actions during the past 20 years, played a huge role in bringing this issue to the forefront. Even if it’s hard for a short while, we will not only sit and tolerate behaviors that violate international diplomacy customs from China.”

On the same day, the National Assembly’s Committee on Foreign Affairs opened a general meeting and adopted a resolution urging an end to forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. The Committee consisting of Park Sun-young (Liberty Forward Party), Gu Sang-chan (New Frontier Party), Kim Dong-chul (Democratic United Party) all tied together their separate proposed resolutions and unanimously passed the synthesized resolution. This resolution included >> denouncing of forced repatriation >> urging for change in the Chinese government in favor of the defectors and urging for the efforts of the international community >> asking China to comply with the UN Convention on Refugees and asking China to immediately stop torture of the defectors. Park Sun-young of the Liberty Forward Party shed tears as he stated, “During the last 20 years, tens of thousands defectors have been repatriated and have either suffered a public execution or been categorized as political prisoners and been placed in prison camp. This time, among the defectors, there is a minor whose parents are in South Korea and a 70 year old man who has a daughter in South Korea.”

Meanwhile, on the same day, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Affairs Office, Hong Lei (洪磊), reiterated their existing position by stating, “China has prudently gone by way of compromise to follow domestic law, international law, and humanitarianism in relevant problems.” However, he refused to respond when asked if China had repatriated any North Korean defectors.

Source: JoongAng Ilbo, 02.25.12

Translated by ENoK

Feb 24 '12 - 'Stop Forced Repatriation': Emergency Appeal Announced by 304 Lawyers

by Choi Youn-jin

Around 300 young layers joined the movement opposing forced repatriation of North Korean defectors.

Bae Eui-chul (Judicial Research and Training Institute, 41st graduating class) and other lawyers announced an emergency appeal opposing forced repatriation of North Korean defectors on the 24th of February, and they also indicated that forced repatriation would violate international law set by the UN, such as the Convention Relating the Status of Refugees. In addition, they stated, “We appeal to the Chinese to act responsibly in support of human rights which are a universal value,” and added their legal opinion about forced repatriation of the refugees.

In their appeal, the lawyers stated “at the time of forced repatriation, the defectors will be classified as traitors and will receive inhumane punishment, so the defectors have an intense fear and do not wish to return to North Korea. For this reason, the defectors qualify as ‘refugees’ under international law.” Thus, “it is not right for China to view them as ‘illegal aliens’ or ‘economic migrants.’ They must be permitted to undergo the procedure to become refugees.”

The lawyers requested that the Chinese authorities provide the UN with information regarding the North Korean defectors. The lawyers believe the Chinese should actively cooperate and provide the UN with information about the defectors to see if they can be officially recognized as refugees under UN guidelines. The lawyers stated, “even if some are not recognized officially as refugees, the principle of not forcing repatriation should be equally applied to all defectors.” It was also indicated that forcing repatriation violates international law.

The lawyers gathered quickly to draft the appeal after they were told that in spite of the international community’s outcries, the Chinese government repatriated some of the 30 defectors. None of the lawyers are affiliated with any specific group; they gathered voluntarily to write the appeal.

The representative of the lawyers, Bae Eui-chul, revealed that the lawyers felt a deep regret when they heard that the Chinese government looked away from the international community’s cries and started repatriation. As a result, the lawyers agreed that they were in an urgent position to join in one voice against forced repatriation of the North Korean defectors. Bae also stated that China has a legal obligation to accommodate the humanitarian demands of the international community and urged an immediate end to forced repatriation.

Source: Chosun Ilbo, 02.24.2012

Translated by Enok

Feb 23 '12 - 'Repatriation of North Korean Refugees Will Lead to Death'... in Front of the Chinese Consulate-General in Chicago

by Joo Hyun Kim

On the 23rd, the Korean community of Chicago and the Midwest gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate-General in downtown Chicago to protest against forced repatriation of North Korean defectors who were recently detained in China.

A group fighting for North Korean human rights gathered with pickets, chanted slogans, and made speeches from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to protest against forced repatriation of North Korean defectors. There were around 50 demonstrators including students from the University of Chicago and people from the Korean American Association of Chicago as well as Hebron Church.  Groups present at the demonstration included the organizer of the demonstration, ENoK (Emancipate North Koreans; Sung Hwan Hong is the president), North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC), Defenseforum, and Tongil Shidae (통일시대).

Although this group failed to meet with associates of the Chinese Consulate-General, they dropped off petition forms with over 1,000 signatures—to stop forced repatriation of the North Korean defectors—a list of 15,000 North Korean defectors who have been repatriated in the past, and letters from Suzanne Scholte, the president of NKFC, to the White House pleading to intervene in the matter.

The president of ENoK, Sung Hwan Hong, who led this gathering stated, “We must not remain silent. We must be the voice for the North Korean refugees who aren’t given a voice. The demonstration may be over, but the fight has just started. It was difficult gathering more demonstrators because of some people’s prejudice toward a gathering like this. However, not only did the Koreans take notice of the demonstration but the local people were as well. We must keep fighting until the detained North Koreans defectors are freed.”

ENoK and others are going to discuss having a second demonstration and other plans during their meet-up next week.

Source: Korea Daily, 02.23.2012

Translated by ENoK

Feb 23 '12 - Abort Forced Repatriation of North Korean Defectors!!

by Kim Yang Hee

In downtown Chicago, around thirty Koreans and local Americans joined together in front of the Chinese Consulate-General to protest against forced repatriation of around thirty North Korean defectors who had been captured by the Chinese authorities.

At 10 a.m. on February 23rd, around thirty people gathered in front of the Chinese Consulate-General holding pickets reading ‘repatriation is death’ and ‘stop forced repatriation,’ and they joined in one voice to oppose the repatriation of the North Koreans.

Between February 8th and 13th, around thirty North Korean defectors were captured by Chinese authorities near the Chinese border. Usually, after being investigated, North Korean defectors are sent back to North Korea. There, they are sent to a prison for political offenders and receive punishment.

However, Kim Jong-un declared that if anybody, who tries to leave North Korea during the hundred-day mourning period for Kim Jong-i, is captured, he would execute three generations of his or her family. The thirty captured defectors will have to reenter North Korea under these conditions, and many specialists believe that the chance that they would be executed immediately is very high.

ENoK (Emancipation of North Koreans) is a nonprofit group in Chicago fighting for the liberation of North Korean defectors. The president, Hong Sung-hwan, explained, “Although we don’t know how much influence the Chinese consulate here can have over the situation, we planned this demonstration because we need to do at least what we can do to stop the repatriation of the North Korean defectors. We hope that Koreans in many places will take a deep interest in this problem and take part in the voice against the repatriation of the North Koreans.” President Hong led the demonstration and even sent the Chinese Consulate-General a petition to stop the repatriation process.

Meanwhile, related to this problem, Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights (North Korea) reported last week to the UN Human Rights Committee that countries neighboring North Korea should not repatriate any North Korean defectors. Also, groups (like North Korean defectors living in South Korea and Christian churches) have been assembling in front of the Chinese Embassy located in Jongro District in Seoul and held press conferences. Nevertheless, it is suspected that nine of the recently caught defectors were repatriated last weekend.

Source: focusK, 02.23.12

Translated by ENoK

Feb 23 '12 - Stop the Forced Repatriation of North Korean Defectors!

Koreans Demonstrate to Condemn Immoral Crimes in Front of the Chinese Consulate in Chicago

by Park Woong-jin

Condemning cries denouncing China’s immoral policy regarding North Korean defectors could be heard in downtown Chicago.

‘ENoK’ (Emancipate North Koreans), a nonprofit organization aimed to help North Korean defectors in America in resettlement, and ‘NIM’ (North Korea Inland Mission) led a demonstration opposing the Chinese government’s immoral actions of repatriating North Korean defectors; the demonstration took place in downtown Chicago around the area of the Chinese Consulate-General on the 23rd of February. ENoK’s founder, Hong Sung-hwan, the president of the Korean community in Chicago, Kim Jong-gap, and around 40 other Koreans participated in the demonstration by holding up pickets with phrases like ‘Arrests Using Traps Are Illegal’, ’Stop Forced Repatriation’, ‘Protect The Refugees’, and ‘Silence is Death.’ These people denounced the inhumane actions of the Chinese government as the sounds of Korean drums rang.

During the demonstration, the president of ENoK, Hong Sung-hwan, a
University of Chicago student, Sandra Park, and others stood in front of the crowd to read aloud messages conveying information about China’s policy on North Korean defectors, problems with human rights in North Korea, and appeals on behalf of the defectors. In addition to giving speeches, they shouted slogans such as “Stop Forced Repatriation’ and ‘Give Them Freedom.’ Some pedestrians noticed the protestors, stopped to read the signs on the pickets, and showed interest in the ongoing demonstration. abc TV also came on-site to collect footage of the demonstration. Before the demonstration, ENoK president Hong
placed a packet of petitions and letters appealing to the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, in a letterbox outside of the Chinese Consulate-General. However, no one from the Chinese Consulate-General showed up, so the demonstrators could not convey their message directly.

Still, ENoK is currently sending out letters containing information related to the North Korean defectors to Illinois politicians, prominent national politicians, and the press to induce interest on behalf of the North Korean defectors. ENoK President Hong explained, “At the beginning of February, 34 North Korean defectors were caught by Chinese public security officers, and they are expected to be forced to return to North Korea by the Chinese public security. Currently, we can’t even check if these
people are alive or dead. We have started this demonstration because the
Chinese government is ignoring the principle set by the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which indicates that forced repatriation of refugees is prohibited, and instead, the Chinese government is expelling North Korean defectors to a place where the defectors will surely die.” Sandra Park (History major at the University of Chicago) emphasized, “Sending the North Korean defectors back to a land from which they risked their lives to leave for a land of freedom is incomprehensible. All citizens of the world should pay attention in this issue.”

Source: The Korea Times, 02.23.12

Translated by ENoK