News / Asia

Christian Missionaries Go Online to Help North Korean Refugees in China

Pastor Chun Ki-won of the Durihana Church in Seoul goes online to help North Korean women who have become the victims of human traffickers in China.
Pastor Chun Ki-won of the Durihana Church in Seoul goes online to help North Korean women who have become the victims of human traffickers in China.

North Koreans continue to flee their impoverished homeland in search of food and to escape political oppression. Christian missionaries have been at the forefront of the effort to bring these defectors to South Korea. But the work is difficult because of China's crackdown on those who enter the country illegally. Now, some activists have taken their rescue effort online.

Man with a mission

Pastor Chun Ki-won goes online as soon as he arrives at his office at the Durihana Church in Seoul.

He is trying to get in contact with a young woman named Sung-hee.

Chun opens up a web-cam chat program and clicks on Sung-hee's name on his list of contacts. On his screen appears a young woman, with long dark hair, wearing a black and white tank top.

Chun explains that Sung-hee is a North Korean refugee who is being held inside a house somewhere in northeast China. He is trying to help her escape and come to South Korea.

He says Sung-hee became the victim of human traffickers after she left North Korea a year ago.

Forced to strip

Chun says when she was on the border with China, some men bribed the border guard to sneak her across. They told her they would help her earn money and that she would work for a computer company. But she ended up locked in this house and is forced to strip for an online pornography site.

Chun says Sung-hee's story is typical of many North Korean women who cross into China.

Human rights groups say many are picked up by human traffickers. Some are sold for just a few hundred dollars to Chinese men as brides. Others are put to work in the sex trade.

Because China repatriates North Koreans who enter the country illegally, activists like Pastor Chun say it is becoming harder for missionaries and other aid workers to reach those in need.

He says that is why he has taken his rescue effort online.

Online pornography

Chun says, years ago in China it was easy to meet North Korean women anywhere on the streets. But these days it is too dangerous for them to go out, so they just stay inside and go on the Internet. Also, much of the sex work they are forced into is online.

The defectors hear about Chun's church in newspapers or by word of mouth. The Durihana church supports a team of undercover missionaries in China. They run a network of safe houses all the way to Southeast Asia, where it is easier for North Korean to seek asylum.

Chun says his church has brought 900 North Koreans to South Korea over the past 11 years.

Hannah's story

One defector Chun helped escape from China is a 30-year-old woman who asked to be called Hannah.

Like many North Korean defectors, she crossed the border many times. But one time, the police caught her and she was sent to a North Korean prison camp.

Hannah describes what happened to her there.

She says she was kept in a small room at the prison with some North Korean officers, who kicked and beat her with a belt. Hannah says they called her a prostitute. Whenever she spoke, they hit her more.

Hannah eventually escaped North Korea again and got in touch with Chun's missionaries in China.

Chun says Hannah was lucky to get out alive. Defection can be punishable by death in North Korea. He also says women who are repatriated often face more punishment than men.

Chun says, if a woman is pregnant when she is returned, she could go to jail for the rest of her life and be tortured. A pregnant woman will be forced to have an abortion. Prison officials will hit her and give her drugs to cause her to abort.

Chun says, for these reasons, he tries to help as many North Korean women as possible come to South Korea, so their lives are no longer at risk in China.

Chun continues his chat with Sung-hee.

Chun types to her that he can bring her to South Korea in the next 10 days.

Not ready for rescue

But Sung-hee replies she is not ready to go yet.

Chun says she is reluctant to go because she still thinks she will get money for her work. Chun says she does not understand that people in her situation never actually get paid by human traffickers.

Chun says he will dispatch missionaries to her home soon. But he says, it is up to her to decide whether to come to South Korea.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs