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

2020 was a very difficult year for NKHR to provide rescue operations for the North Korean refugees escaping the country.

After the closure of borders due to the pandemic, crossing of the borders became almost impossible. North Korea has completely sealed off its borders with standing orders to shoot at those attempting to cross for the fear of spread of the pandemic. North Korea coninues to report zero cases of COVID-19, yet these numbers cannot be trusted. Most of the foreign Embassies evacuated and the unofficial information provides dire picture in the country.

It is most worrisome that since majority of the population relies on private markets and the movement of goods through the border in order to survive, the containment measures have disproportionately affected the population that can neither rely on private economy nor escape due to closed borders. In fact, the unofficial reports talk about food shortages and complete lack of daily necessities on some of the black markets in North Korea.

How difficult the situation is illustrates the fact that the official number of North Korean refugees arriving in South Korea dwindled from the usual 1,000-plus individuals to only 195 people by September 2020 as reported by ROK Ministry of Unification.

While our organization rescued 230 people in 2018 and 133 people in 2019, in 2020 we managed to directly assist only three women in their 30s and 40s to reach South Korea. We also continued to operate indirect assistance in the form of food and medical assistance for those in need on the territory of the third country, but in a limited scope due to the decline in border-crossing attempts. In total, we spent U$39,720 on these operations in 2020.

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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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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
$15,751 raised of $30,000 goal
 
156 donations
$14,249 to go
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