News / Asia

N. Korean Defectors Take Bigger Role in Helping Others

North Korean defectors sing hymns during a service at Saeteo Church in Seoul
North Korean defectors sing hymns during a service at Saeteo Church in Seoul
TEXT SIZE - +
Jason Strother

The number of North Korean refugees reaching South Korea continues to rise. Most make it with the help of Christian missionaries who take North Koreans along what is called the underground railroad, which runs through China to Southeast Asia, where its easier to seek asylum. But resettled refugees themselves now play a bigger role in bringing their family and friends to the South.

Ji Sang Hyun was not sure if he would ever see his mother again. It was 2006 and she had escaped North Korea two years earlier. Ji, now 28, and his younger brother and sister had also fled and were hiding in northeast China.

That is when he got a phone call.

He says that his mother called him from South Korea. She had decided that China was too dangerous for the family to stay there, so that is why she went to South Korea.

China repatriates North Koreans it finds who entered the country illegally. Human rights groups and refugees say those repatriated are sent to prison camps where they are tortured or even executed.

So Ji's mother arranged for a smuggler to escort him and his brother to Laos and then onto South Korea. But Ji says they could not find their sister in time to take her with them.

It was only this September that Ji and his family finally located her.

He says his sister had no idea whether they were back in North Korea or in the South. She found out through a friend in China that they were in Seoul. They contacted her and paid a human rights organization to help bring her to Seoul.

Ji's sister is now at a government facility where North Koreans stay for three months and learn to adjust to life in South Korea.

That facility, called Hanawon, is expanding to accommodate the growing number of refugees who make it here. More than 20,000 have arrived since fighting in the Korean War ended in 1953. More than half of them have arrived since 2007, driven by poverty and repression in their homeland.

And some refugees and their advocates say many more are soon to come.

"Gradually we are going to see a snowballing number of people and it's not all to the credit of the underground railroad," said Tim Peters, an American missionary whose Seoul organization assists defectors in reaching South Korea.

Peters says that resettled North Koreans in the South are playing a bigger role in helping relatives get out of China. Some have established their own network of brokers and work in parallel with missionaries.

"Virtually every refugee who makes it safely and resettles in South Korea has probably made a sworn oath to two to three to four other family members or very close associates in North Korea that the resettled one is going to do everything possible to get those other people out," Peters said.

Peters says some defectors even go back to China themselves to bring loved ones to the South.

Kim Seok Hyang, a former official at Seoul's Ministry of Unification, the agency that oversees North Korean resettlement, says refugees are doing whatever they can to raise funds to help their families escape.

Kim says many defectors, especially women who make of the majority of refugees here, use the few thousand dollars they receive as a government stipend to pay brokers to bring their loved ones to the South.

And if that money is not enough, some turn to the sex trade.

"They want to sacrifice themselves to get that amount of money. In their point of view, they need to save their family members and they have no other choice other than their body," Kim said.

Defector Ji Sang Hyun says he does not know how much money his mother paid to have him, his brother and sister brought to South Korea.

He is just glad his sister finally made it so the family can live together once again. But it is not an entirely happy ending.

Ji says his father at first did not want to defect, but when he learned that they were all going to South Korea he tried to escape North Korea, too. But he was caught by border guards and tortured in a prison camp.

Ji says he later learned that his father died just days after being released from prison.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid