Sunday, May 21, 2006

The New Underground Railroad

"Hannah" and "Naomi" are the noms de liberté of the [North Korean refugee] women who were willing to savor a taste of their new freedom by meeting an American journalist. Even so, they remain fearful for the safety of the families they have left behind in North Korea. The relatives of defectors can simply disappear--sent to the gulag or worse. "North Korea has many spies," says Naomi, through an interpreter.

The women's new names were bestowed on them by Chun Ki-won, the South Korean pastor whose underground railroad led them, and four others, thousands of miles across China to sanctuary in Southeast Asia this spring.

Pastor Chun is a man of "miracles," the women say. Their own particular miracle is to have stepped off a plane in this country late last Friday, the first refugees to enter the U.S. under asylum rules set up under the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act. Naomi, Hannah and the four compatriots who traveled with them had spent years in virtual servitude in northeast China, along the North Korean border.

Hannah and Naomi are willing to share their stories, but first they wish to make a statement. Hannah settles herself in her chair, opens a small notebook, and reads in Korean the words she has prepared: "Before we begin this interview, I want to thank God for bringing us to this land of dreams. We sincerely thank President George Bush and the American government for letting us enter as refugees." She bows slightly, closes her notebook, and prepares to relive her ordeal.

[Excerpts of an article by Melanie Kirkpatrick, The Wall Street Journal]

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