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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid