Chinese authorities are engaging in a severe crackdown against North Korean refugees and the aid workers who help them, according to the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). Refugees who are caught over the 350-mile common border face deportation to North Korea. Humanitarian workers, including Christians, face stiff prison sentences.
The Chinese government sentenced two aid workers, the Rev. Choi Bong-il and Kim Hee-tae, to prison for 9 and 7 years, respectively. A staff worker for Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, Takayuki Noguchi, was arrested and imprisoned, along with two other North Koreans who were with him.
In the last decade, an estimated 300,000 North Korean citizens have fled their country and its brutal Communist dictatorship. An estimated 50,000 North Korean refugees remain in China. Christians in North Korea face the prospect of horrific punishment for failure to participate in the cult of "Dear Leader" Kim Jong-il.
"Those who have been in contact with missionaries or South Koreans are subject to especially harsh treatment," CSW says. "Christians are likely to be executed or sent for life to hard labor camps." The organization estimates there are 100,000 political prisoners in North Korea.
Economic conditions in North Korea are atrocious. Two million people died in the recent famine. The per-person economic output is less than $1,000—far below the $17,300 level of neighboring South Korea.
Connie Snyder of Washington-based International Christian Concern told Christianity Today that "believers in North Korea are desperate to escape the cruelty and starvation. They risk their lives to cross the border of North Korea and China for freedom, or to bring back food to their families."
CSW says China wants to "destroy the network that provides humanitarian care to the North Koreans" to eliminate the refugee problem. "Thus, China has placed bounties on the heads of aid workers in the area and arrested and sentenced many who have sheltered and escorted escapees."
Snyder said Christians must speak out and pray. "Christians in China are in extreme danger trying to assist their North Korean brothers in Christ," Snyder said.
Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea, agreed. "The North Korean refugees and we activists who help them desperately need your consistent and fervent prayers."
[By Timothy R. Callahan, Christianity Today]