Saturday, June 17, 2006

Helping Hands Korea helps North Koreans find freedom

[Portion of a radio interview with Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea, on ABC Radio Australia]

The journey to flee North Korea may be perilous, but the will of many people to escape the hunger and repression in the communist state far outweighs the dangers. For many North Koreans, the uncertainty of successfully seeking asylum in China or South Korea is paramount. Yet the odds have improved somewhat thanks to an informal network of activists who try against formidable obstacles to help North Korean refugees in crisis. They're known as the Underground Railroad. Reverend Tim Peters has become the public face of this operation and he does so at great personal risk.

TIM PETERS: It numbers in the hundreds that were able to actually help per year; in 2004 we were able to put about 600 North Koreans in shelters in China. Those numbers have gone down a little bit, not because the need is any less, but simply that Chinese surveillance and Chinese security initiatives have so strengthened that it's not that easy to shelter them. But we are continuing to shelter a very good number of them in China. So we're not only in the endeavour of trying to bring people out, but trying to identify the ones that are really in the gravest danger if they were sent back to North Korea.

LOPRESTI: Well the US has recently announced that it will soon begin accepting North Korean refugees. Do you believe that Congress will appropriate funding, will it make good on its promise, because US President George W. Bush has made it very clear that he loathes North Korea, he's made that quite clear, saying I loath Kim Jong-il. So do you see the US taking up the cause?

PETERS: I'm still hopeful. As of October 2004 when the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed I think the entire human rights community was very optimistic. But [time] has dragged by and no significant funding for the authorized 24 million dollars that was stipulated in that act has been forthcoming. It's been agonizingly slow to get actually implemented. So again, I'm hopeful and I'm glad that there seems to be some movement, but I'm quite frustrated at how slow things are moving.

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