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
    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

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    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.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.