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Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee

by Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights
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Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
Give Life and Hope to a North Korean Refugee
North Korean refugees passing Mekong River
North Korean refugees passing Mekong River

The journey through China is long and treacherous for North Korean refugees. NKHR's staff joined to observe one of such missions. Sungju, who joined the mission recalled: "The rescue worker's phone was ringing day and night. He was checking whether the group reached the next safe point on their difficult journey." 

The tourist boats on Mekong River go back and forth with happy people, but for North Korean refugees on a small wooden boats this short passage is a decisive journey. "We were all very nervous," writes Sungju, "until we saw that the whole group made it. I raised my head and sent thanks to heavens."

In 2018, NKHR directly assisted 230 North Korean refugees (176 women, 5 men, 17 teenagers and 32 children) to reach South Korea safely. NKHR spent over $402,643 in relief activities. Both in terms of donations and rescues it was the highest number ever reached by NKHR in a year.

The successful rescue misions were possible thanks to an article published in the Chosun Ilbo newspaper. The article featured Young Ja's story (NKHR's Director General) of devoting her life to helping North Korean refugees. Many readers touched by her story organized fundraising efforts, bringing over $200,000 in donations.

NKHR would like to thank all the donors, including GlobalGiving donors who supported these rescues. Our mission continues as usual, as it has been for the last 20 years.

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Large rescue operations continued throughout the summer. In July and August alone, we rescued 76 people and spent over U$130,000 for rescue operations, out of which U$1,815 came through GlobalGiving donations. Your generous donations allow us to rescue more people before the Winter months.

The following personal messages were given to the rescue workers while the rescued women were still in China: 

Ban sisters

Birth Year: 1991, Yanggang Province

When I and my sister came back home after serving 8 years in the military, our house was in ruin. We heard that our mother escaped to China to earn money and was forcibly repatriated and arrested by secret police. Not knowing her whereabouts, my sister crossed the river to China first and I followed her later. However, as I crossed the border, I was sold to forced marriage. I don't want to go back to the country that took away my mother. I don’t even know how she is doing.

Kim and her son

Birth Year: 1987, North Hamgyung Province

In North Korea, I thought that the society operates by not paying people who work, and it is sustained by thieves. When I was only 19 years old, I crossed the river to China to earn the living, but I was caught by traffickers and sold to a man. I got pregnant and had a son. My Chinese "husband" was very poor and violent. His family also started to beat me. I couldn’t bear it anymore and I finally fled away from them.

 

51 People Rescued in July: Lee OO, Female, born in 1996, Gangwon Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1967, Yanggang Province, Mother and Son (Yoon OO, Female, born in 1969, North Hamgyung Province, Wang OO, Male child, born in 2006), Mother and Son (Cho OO, Female, born in 1970, Yanggang Province, Wang OO, Male child, born in 2007), Park OO, Male, born in 1984, Gangwon Province, Park OO, Femail, born in 1971, North Hamgyung Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1984, North Hamgyung Province, Lee OO, Female, born in 1980 Hwanghae Province), Mother and Son (Choi OO, Female, born in 1962, North Hamgyung Province, Yang OO, Male, born in 2000), Mother and daughter (Jung OO, Female, born in 1973, Yanggang Province, Jung OO, Female child, born in 2016), Lee OO, Female, born in 1987, Yanggang Province, Gwon OO, Female, born in 1976, North Hamgyung Province, Lee OO, Female, born in 1982, Yanggang Province, Ro OO, Female, born in 1972, North Hamgyung Province, Sisters (Ban OO, Female, born in 1991, Yanggang Province), So OO, Female, born in 1998, Yanggang Province, Choi OO, Female, born in 1980, Yanggang Province, Cho OO, Female, born in 1973, Gangwon Province, Lim OO, Female, born in 1976, North Hamgyung Province, Ha OO, Female, born in 1983, North Hamgyung Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1961, North Hamgyung Province, Hwang OO, Female, born in 1970, North Hamgyung Province, Mother and daughter (Bang OO, Female, born in 1985, North Hamgyung Province, Go OO, Female child, 4-years-old), Ro OO, Female, born in 1980, North Hamgyung Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1991, Yanggang Province, Seok OO, Female, born in 1983, Yanggang Province, Lim OO, Female, born in 1975, Yanggang Province, Mother and Son (Lee OO, Female, born in 1991, Yanggang Province, Ju OO, Male child, born in 2013), Mother and daughter (Na OO, Female, born in 1990, North Hamgyung Province, Na OO, Female child, born in 2010), Mother and daughter (Jung OO, Female, born in 1976, North Hamgyung Province, Jang OO, Female, born in 2004), Park OO, Female, born in 2013, North Hamgyung Province, 3 Familes (Gwon OO, Female, born in 1985, North Hamgyung Province, Goo OO, Female, born in 2005, Goo OO, Male, born in 2007), Shim OO, Female, born in 1971, Yanggang Province, Choi OO, Female, born in 1943, North Pyeongan Province, Song OO, Female, born in 1972, South Hamgyung Province, Cho OO, Female, born in 1989, North Hamgyung Province, 3 Familes (Ahn OO, Female, born in 1965, North Hamgyung Province, Han OO, Female, born in 2002, Han OO, Female, born in 2007), Jeon OO, Female, born in 1979, South Hamgyung Province

25 People Rescued in August: Ju OO, Female, born in 1967 North Hwanghae Province, 3 Familes (Oh OO, Female, born in 1982, North Hamgyung Province, Jang OO, Female, born in 2006, Jang OO, Female, born in 2013), Mother and Son (Kim OO, Female, born in 1987, North Hamgyung Province, Jang OO, Male child, born in 2016), Mother and Son (Kim OO, Female, born in 1975, North Hamgyung Province, Hye OO, Male child, born in 2013), Park OO, Female, born in 1995, Gangwon Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1973, Yanggang Province, Jeon OO, Female, born in 1983, North Hamgyung Province, Seo OO, Female, born in 1976, North Hamgyung Province, Song OO, Female, born in 1975, North Hamgyung Province, Mother and daughter (Choi OO, Female, born in 1968, South Hamgyung Province, Hong O, Female child, born in 2006), Mother and Son (Lee OO, Female, born in 1972, North Hamgyung Province, Lee OO, Male child, born in 2011), Mother and daughter (Jeon OO, Female, born in 1975, North Hamgyung Province, Cho OO, Female child, born in 2006), Choi OO, Female, born in 1981, North Hamgyung Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1985, North Hamgyung Province, Jeon OO, Female, born in 1986, Pyongyang Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1978, North Hamgyung Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1982, North Hamgyung Province, Lee OO, Female, born in 1979, Gangwon Province

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In May and June alone, NKHR was able to rescue an unprecedented number of 63 North Korean refugees. This was thanks to the fact that our organization received over U$ 90,000 in generous donations after 2 articles have recently been published in Korean Chosun Ilbo, documenting NKHR’s relief activities. These articles were based on interviews with two relief workers and published in a famous column of the Senior Editor, titled “The people who met with Choi Bo-Sik”. As a result, donors started visiting our office bringing every single penny they could afford to support our relief work. One anonymous donor even sent U$ 5,000 in cash in an express parcel. Another man sent $400 in an envelope, with a note: “Although I am in my 80s and have no income, I will send you whatever money I can. Please make sure to take care of yourself in your work.” 

32 People Rescued in May: 3 Families (Kim OO, Female, born in 1971⋅North Hamgyong Province, Kim OO, Male, born in 2003, Ryu OO, Female child, born in 2008) Choi OO, Female, born in 1967 Pyongyang City, Lee OO, Male, born in 1996 Yanggang Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1986 Yanggang Province, Yoon OO, Female, born in 1989 North Hamgyong Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1966 North Hwanghae Province, Mother and daughter (Choi OO, born in 1988, female Yanggang, Ho OO, female, born in 2014, Ho OO, female, born in 2016), Mother and Son (Lee OO, Female, born in 1964 Yanggang, Chung OO, male, born in 2003, Chung OO, male, born in 2012), Family (Kim OO, Female, born in 1985 Yanggang, Kang OO, Female, born in 1985, Kang OO, Male, born in 1987), Kim OO, Female, born in 1958 North Hamgyong Province, Song OO, Female, born in 1992 Yanggangdo, Jeon OO, Female, born in 1979 Yanggangdo, Brother and Sister (Jang OO, Female child, born in 2005, Jang OO, Male child, born in 2008), Kim OO, Female, born in 1986 Yanggang Province, Choi OO, Female, born in 1977 North Hamgyung province, Park OO Female, born in 1991 Yanggang Province, Won OO, Female, born in 1992 Yanggang Province, No OO, Female, born in 1992 Yanggang Province, Mother and Daughter (Kim OO, Female, born in 1963, North Hamgyung Province, Wang OO, Female, born in 2008), Family (Byeon OO, Female, born in 1963, female North Hamgyong Province, Lee OO, Female, born in 1987 North Hamgyung Province, Yoo OO Male, born in 2004).

31 People Rescued in June: Kim OO, Female, born in 1976, Song OO, Female, born in 1991 Yanggang Province, Yoon OO, Female, born in 1985 North Hamgyong Province, Lee OO, Child, born in 2003 Yanggang Province, Chae OO, Female, born in 1973 North Hamgyong Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1964 North Hamgyong Province, Jeon OO, Female, born in 1971 North Hamgyong Province, Choo OO, Female, born in 1982 Yanggang, Lee OO, Female, born in 1989 Yanggang Province, Yoon OO, Female, born in 1965 North Hamgyong Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1965 North Hamgyong Province, Song OO, Female, born in 1984 Yanggang Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1978 Yanggang Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1984 North Hamgyong Province, Park OO, Female, born in 1985 North Hamgyong Province, Chae OO, Female, born in 1970 Hwanghae Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1966, North Hamgyong Province, Bae OO, Female, born in 1976 North Hamgyong Province, Mother and Daughter (Cha OO, Female, born in 1979 North Hamgyong Province, Wang OO, Female, born in 2002), Lee OO, Female, born in 1949 Yanggang Province, Brothers (Kim O, Male, born in 1991, Kim OO, Male, born in 1993 Yanggang), Kim O, Female, born in 1980 North Hamgyong Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1985, Kim OO, Female, born in 1979 North Hamgyong Province, Lee OO, Female, born in 1997 Yanggang Province, Han OO, Female, born in 1979 South Hamgyong Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1991 South Hamgyong Province, Kim OO, Female, born in 1974, North Hamgyong Province, Choi OO, Female, born in 1985 Yanggang Province.

For English-language speakers we attach The Sunday Times interview with the "Superman", a man who assists the field operations of NKHR. For Korean-readers the link to the Chosun Ilbo article with the director of NKHR and its Rescue Operations has been attached. Thank you.

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Crossing
Crossing

In January and February of 2018, NKHR successfully rescued 11 North Korean refugees (9 women - all in their 20s and 30s, a 7-year-old child and a 1-month-old infant). Until March we raised $5,605 through our Global Giving refugee project, representing donations from December until end of February 2018 and spent a total of $20,600 in rescue operations. Thank you for your very generous contributions!

The following personal messages were given to the rescue workers while the rescued women were still in China: 

Park ***

Birth Year: 1982

Female

Hamkyung-buk Province

My life is unjust and miserable beyond words. I was happy when I was initially promised a well-paying job at a factory in China. However, I was sold and instead came to a wilderness where they raised sheep. I was there for two years before I found out where I was. My life felt unstable due to an insecure legal status. In my neighborhood, a North Korean woman was caught and taken away. My wish is to live in peace with my child for even a day. Why must we North Korean people have to wander and live in such injustice and misery?

Byun ***

Birth Year: 1991

Female

Yang-kang Province

When I was little, my father died from an accident and my mother went missing, so I came to live at my grandmother’s house. I felt desolate at the thought of not having anyone to depend on after my grandmother’s passing when I received news from my mother, whom I had believed to be dead, to come to China. In 2014, I crossed the river as an 18-year-old and resolved never to return to North Korea. I was so glad to be reunited with my mother and never wanted to be separated from her again...but in the end, I, too, was sold into marriage like my mother, weeping over our pitiful circumstances.

Choi ***

Birth Year: 1989

Female

Yang-kang Province

After my father passed away while I was in the elementary school, there was not a day my mother and I were at peace, struggling each day to keep ourselves from starving to death. My desire for South Korea grew as my friends and I secretly watched South Korean films, and I resolved that someday I would go and live in a free country. In the summer of 2010, I followed a smuggler across the river to go to South Korea, but instead I was sold into marriage. I didn’t know where I was, only that I was in a remote area in which I had to walk for several hours to reach the nearest bus stop. The only thing that helped me persevere and continue living was the thought that once I reached South Korea, I could live.

Lee ***

Birth Year: 1993

Female

Yang-kang Province

I made a living selling goods until I became a victim of fraud, after which I lost my house and fell into debt. To pay off my debt, I had no other choice but to marry in China. In the winter of 2012, a 19-year-old me, with eyes shut frozen by her tears, crossed the Tumen River into China and was married off. I later discovered that my mother had received 5,000 CNY (800 USD) for me. I was sold to a farmer twenty years older than me, from whom I then ran away. If I survive, it will be like saving several lives in North Korea. We, too, are human beings that want to live.

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On the way to receive North Korean refugees
On the way to receive North Korean refugees

Please note: for security reasons of the rescue operations, the names of the places are not revealed.

In 2017, NKHR has rescued a total of 83 North Korean refugees. Giving priority aid to vulnerable women, children, and those who are at risk of execution if repatriated back to North Korea, NKHR assisted the refugees’ journey to South Korea through third countries providing humanitarian assistance. The rescue missions are conducted by trusted local activists in the third countries, with the relief funds collected by NKHR to provide humanitarian assistance and the safe passage.

This December, NKHR Team consisting of officers, senior management and consultant joined a mission to observe the rescue situation of North Korean refugees in a Southeast Asian country under the guidance of local activists. While assisting with the rescue work, and observing humanitarian situation on the ground, they had the opportunity to experience what North Koreans go through firsthand on the escape routes.

NKHR Team arrived at the destination country on December 4th, 2017. One team waited for North Korean refugees at the final destination where North Koreans undertake relevant administrative procedures to be admitted into South Korea. The other team moved to a city where the refugees pass on the way to the final destination. They had to ride a bus without air conditioner in uncomfortable seats for 9 hours to reach the meeting point. The bus was filled with people, with every isle fully occupied, and the driver continuously made stops to take as many passengers as possible. NKHR’s consultant Sungju said, “The road was bumpy that I felt sick.” All the participating officers mentioned that they could not even imagine how North Korean refugees endure more than 70 hours in such conditions; all while fearing that they could be caught and repatriated back to North Korea.

While waiting for the arrival of the North Korean refugees, the second team bought clothes, shoes and food for the refugees and explored the nearby jungle. When North Korean refugees cross the border with China or with South East Asian countries, they often have to move in extreme conditions all whilst under incredible emotional pressure from the possibility of arrest and without any guidance, enough food or clothing. Our Team was required to cut branches in order to move forward and had to climb up the cliff with their bare hands. Recalling this experience, NKHR’s officer said that “it was very tough even though we had a reliable guide who could lead us”.

Both teams and North Korean refugees met each other on December 6th, and after having sometime for conversation, NKHR officers guided the North Korean refugees to a secure shelter where they could take required safe procedures to enter into South Korea.

Through this mission, three North Korean women and a 3-year-old boy were rescued.

One of the rescued women confessed that she had hidden potassium cyanide in her hair and carried it with her throughout the journey to commit suicide in case of an arrest. Many North Korean refugees do so fearing torture, execution and potential danger for their families back in North Korea in case they are repatriated.

There are countless, voiceless people who are still suffering in North Korea and disappear during their journey to seek freedom. NKHR continues to speak up for them and to protect the lives and human rights of the North Korean people.

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Organization Information

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

Location: Seoul - South Korea
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @nkhumanrights
Project Leader:
Joanna Hosaniak
Seoul, Seoul South Korea

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