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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

Thanks to our generous donors, the rescue work continues, although slowly due to continued increased arrests of North Koreans in China. We are happy to report, however, that a three-generation family of four women reached South Korea safely. Mi-ae is 41 years old and she contacted rescue workers to receive assistance for her 62-year old mother and her two young daughters: 10-year-old Kyung and 5-year-old Won.

When in China, Mi-ae explained her hardships to the rescue worker who contacted us to help the four women:

"In North Korea, my family suffered from extreme poverty. In order to survive, we were forced to separate. My father passed away and my two sisters left for China to look for a means of survival. When we did not hear from them again, my mother was inconsolable. I had a hope that maybe if I got married, I could escape poverty and help take care of my mother, as my sisters were not returning. But my marriage only led to abuse and domestic violence.

Finally, my mother and I and my older daughter went to search for my lost sisters in China where I was sold to human traffickers, who then sold me to a man near Shenyang. I did not know anyone and had no place to go. In fear of being reported to police and deported, I endured months of gruesome physical labor and did whatever the man ordered me to do. However, I was caught and repatriated back to North Korea where I was punished for leaving to China by serving in a labor detention center for six months. My mother and older daughter remained in China, and I was scared to send them a message that I was caught in fear that the police would deport them, too.

In 2013, I left again for China and was reunited with my mother and my older daughter. We made up our mind to go to South Korea, partly with the hope that maybe my two sisters had made it there and we could find them. This is how I met you (read: the rescue worker) and I cannot believe that we are finally going to leave China for South Korea. I could not believe hearing that there are good people who sent money to rescue our family. I can promise you, I will raise my daughters well."

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refugees' stories
refugees' stories

We are happy to report that since the beginning of this year, we have been able to assist 19 refugees in reaching safety. Some of them have already entered South Korea, others are under refugee protection and will enter South Korea very soon. Once they enter South Korea, it will be at least 6 more months until we can hear from them again. During these 6 months, they will go through an investigation and then special government resettlement programs, which will prepare them for adjusting to their new lives in South Korea.

So far this year, we have received over US $1,200 in donations from our generous Global Giving donors. Every dollar goes to rescuing women and children; this costs, on average, $2,000 per person.

We have received a few letters from the field from refugees whom we are helping, who have reached a safe third country and are now asking for asylum in South Korea. Here is a letter from Ee-yok, which we share with you, thanking you for giving life and hope to people like her.

"Earlier this March, I sent you a letter in desperation asking for help. While still recovering from a serious medical condition, I left North Korea hoping to avoid starvation. However, I did not know that in China a series of tragedies were awaiting me. I was sold into human trafficking, forced into multiple marriages, and in my third marriage suffered domestic violence. My lack of legal status in China made it almost impossible for me to escape these situations. After enduring years of psychological, verbal and physical abuse, my dream became to go to the Republic of Korea and not pass these miseries on to my children.

Now I am glad to tell you that I, my two children and four other North Korean refugees were able to reach a South-East Asian country safely and wait for our departure to South Korea. In a few months, I will be able to land in the world of freedom and will no longer live in fear of forced repatriation back to North Korea.



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North Korean refugees crossing Mekong River
North Korean refugees crossing Mekong River

Throughout 2016, Citizens' Alliance was able to offer assistance and shelter to 70 North Korean refugees.

Among them were 19 children (11 girls and 8 boys), 5 teenagers, 40 adult females and 6 men.

They safely reached South Korea and are adjusting to their new life.

We raised in total $95,285 toward these rescues, out of which $1,627 came through our donors on Global Giving. Thank you!

Due to military installations, it is impossible for North Koreans to cross directly to South Korea.

North Korean refugees need to travel across China to the border with South-East Asian countries and then through the Mekong River to get to Thailand, which is the first safe country that does not deport North Korean refugees, but allows for their safe passage to South Korea. It's a journey of over 4,000 kilometres.

The rescue operations continue, although in recent few months were disrupted due to unfavorable political climate and constant arrests of all refugees that were crossing North Korean border to China.

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As of the last quarter of 2016, the number of North Korean resettlers who escaped to South Korea reached 30,000 people. They all came with a help of someone. With the Winter approaching, life in North Korea becomes tough and many more try their luck through the frozen Yalu or Tumen Rivers.

So far this year, we have been able to raise funds to rescue over 50 people and provided indirect assistance such as food, clothing and medicines to those who reached for help.

Here are three stories and pleas for help written by very young women whom we managed to rescue recently with a generous help of people of good-will like you. They were all victims of forced marriage in China. Such marriage is not officially recognized by authorities, and if the women are discovered they are repatriated back to North Korea to face punishment and imprisonment for crossing the border. They will also be separated with their children in China.


Min-jeong – Female, in her twenties

Still in NK: her little brother

I escaped seven years ago. When we were living in Pyongyang my father was an instructor of physical education, until one day he was expelled and banished from Pyongyang to another city. When I was in Pyongyang, I was training to be a swimmer. After we left Pyongyang, my father developed a disease and died. My mother escaped to China before me and came back for me later – but when I escaped I was taken in the border area and sold elsewhere – so I never met my mother there. Since I was far from my mother, I couldn’t see her face and I had no idea where she was – but after a while, I found out about her location from my little brother who was still in North Korea. That whole time, my heart was broken with worry since I knew my mother was waiting for me and I couldn’t hear any news of her.  

Even though I couldn’t communicate with the Chinese, I was then force to marry and had a child with a Mongolian man with customs different than my own. Now my son is 3 years old. At first my husband was very poor, so we worked together in a restaurant and did everything we could under the stars to build a home. That’s how we lived. The most difficult part of it all was the harsh tyrannical behavior I experienced from men. I am so lucky that I was able to find my mother. She was living not so far away so we were able to meet. My mother was also sold to be remarried and had a baby. Currently, our family is all separated again. Please, I implore you to save me first, so I can help my mother who is in dire need. I’m constantly in tears.


Ji-a – Female, in her twenties

Orphaned and alone, I lived on the street until the age of 13. I have no idea what kind of work my parents did. I only remember being alone in my house. Please don’t ask me about that time – I hate even to think of it. When I was 13, I fought with the other street-orphans and decided to just escape by myself. 

When I got to China I met a young man who took me somewhere where I could make a living as a housekeeper, just working jobs by the day. Even though they treated me well, I now have a six year old son and I have no choice but to leave. I don’t have any money or anywhere to stay. If you could please help me quickly, I would be so grateful. There was woman refugee living in our neighborhood who was like an aunt to me. She’s the one who put me in touch with you. I want to go to Korea and live a good life.


Yu-jin – Female, in her twenties

Still in NK: her father, mother, sibling

My father worked as a laborer in a lumber processing yard. I have a mother and a younger sibling. After leaving college, I was unemployed. I followed my good friend out of North Korea in 2015 and found work in a local shop. This was extremely lucky. But we didn’t receive cash for the work we did, so I couldn’t send money back home to North Korea. My mother must really miss me and worry about me. I want to help her as soon as I possibly can. I can’t believe that people would help us. I ask for your help most respectfully, so that I can go to South Korea, where I hope to study and become a judge. Please save me, so I can see that day. I will be praying.


Please note that for security reasons this project cannot attach any photos.

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In aiding North Korean refugees, NKHR prioritizes those who are especially vulnerable, such as women with small children. To date, we directly assisted over 680 North Korean refugees in finding safe haven in South Korea. As of 2016, a total of 30,000 North Koreans have resettled in South Korea.

Last year, thanks to a large international support of contemporary "Shindlers" - people of good will, we assisted 112 refugees (66 women, 16 men, 7 teens and 23 young children). We spent over $208,000 in relief activities. Our safe places provide others with clothing or medicines.

In the first half of 2016, we were already able to rescue 50 people. After their arrival in South Korea, each North Korean has to go through an interrogation by intelligence service and then go through 12-weeks resettlement program in the government center called Hanawon. During that time, their contact with the outside world is restricted. This means that in majority of cases, we are able to meet freely with most of our beneficiaries only after they are released from Hanawon and receive government-supported housing in South Korea. The whole process takes about 6 months.

Late July, we were able to meet first of the group of people we helped in recent months; a young boy in his 20s who belonged to a group that was arrested during the transportation and was threatened to be deported to North Korea. Thanks to our prompt intervention with international governments and the UN, the deportation was prevented and the group was sent to South Korea. The boy has just recently left the resettlement center, but is going through a psychological treatment due to trauma he experienced during arrest and due to threats of deportation to North Korea, where, if it happened, he would be imprisoned for many years or even executed just for escaping the country.

In our relief efforts, we hope to repeat the statistics of last year, although the most recent reports claim increase of control and deportations due to deterioriating political situation between South Korea, North Korea and China. Our ability to help North Korean refugees depends each year on the intensity of control and deportations in third countries. At times, it makes our relief operations impossible due to safety reasons.

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Organization Information

Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

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

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