Monday, November 30, 2009

North Korea’s Kim Jong-un makes the rounds with Kim Jong-il

It’s documented that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's third son Kim Jong-un, rumored to be the heir apparent, accompanied his father on a trip to Wonsan in April.

The Mainichi Shimbun paper said this was the first time a written document revealed Kim Jong-un accompanied his father on one of his so-called "on-the-spot guidance" trips. It speculated the North "has started to keep documentation of Kim Jong-un's activities for the power transfer."

According to the Japanese daily, the document is described as "the first official document regarding General Comrade Kim Jong-Un."

[Chosun Ilbo]

Sunday, November 29, 2009

International Lawmakers focus on North Korean Defectors

An international group of lawmakers meeting in Thailand has urged countries to better protect and support North Korean defectors. They also demanded that China stop forcibly repatriating refugees to North Korea, where they could face execution.

Representatives from twelve countries met in Thailand Saturday to raise attention to the plight of North Korean refugees. The International Parliamentarians' Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights says those who escape impoverished but tightly controlled North Korea to China often face abuse and discrimination because of their illegal status.

South Korean lawmaker Kim Yong-tae says women make up 80 percent of North Korean defectors, and most of them end up marrying Chinese men but neither they or their children have access to social services in China.

The lawmakers issued a joint statement calling on Pyongyang to end its gross human rights violations, including political detentions, torture, and public executions.

Full story

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The number of choices overwhelming for North Koreans in the South

Just a simple trip to a Seoul supermarket can present North Korean refugees with freedoms, choices and problems they'd never imagined in the North, where food choices are extremely limited.

"Many can't understand why they are so many brands of cheese or noodles here­, when in the North there is just one, which few can afford to buy," said Joanna Hosaniak, from the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.

The church group Durihana Association offers aid to North Korean defectors. It runs a small school, giving refugees a back-to-basics education. In small classrooms, small groups of students take their very first steps in learning English or using a computer,­ something that is a rare privilege in the north.

"When you explain what the Internet is and what you can do with it, they have no idea, because they only have one TV channel, things like that. It's really mind-blowing," said teacher Ko Han. "Suddenly they are thrown into one of the most high-tech, wired cities in the world and many can't cope."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Life for North Koreans outside North Korea

They've escaped the most repressive regime in the world, but for many North Korean refugees, life outside their closed, totalitarian country is still not easy.

Thousands of refugees have made the perilous journey from North Korea, via a tortuous route that takes in China, Laos and Thailand, some making it to South Korea.

Joanna Hosaniak, from the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights said the refugees often arrive with warped expectations, increasingly based on watching smuggled copies of South Korean soap operas.

"North Koreans, when they watch those DVDs they assume that 'wow south Koreans are living in such a nice country, they have such a beautiful apartments they drive a Mercedes Benz, and so on'," she said. "So ... ­ they come here and they think this is just like that,­ and it isn't."

The reality is low-paid jobs, discrimination and often alienation.

At a factory near Seoul, 80 percent of the workforce are North Koreans, making cardboard boxes. They work long hours, in freezing winter temperatures, for low pay. ­And these are the lucky ones. Many simply can't find jobs at all, lacking even the most basic skills. Many are shunned because of their North Korean accents and perceived backwards attitudes.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

North Korean refugees’ high-stakes escapes

Most defectors from North Korea steal into China across the porous border between the two nations. But their journey to freedom is far from over. In China, the women risk being sold into sex rings. Chinese secret police are always set to pounce, prepared to usher the unlucky back to North Korea. So many lie low and wait. They live in safe houses, often working illegally.

They scrape by, waiting for a chance to leave China, knowing the tap on the shoulder from Chinese authorities could come at any time.

"They're afraid of being stopped by some official, asked a question in Chinese they cannot answer," says Tim Peters, the American missionary who took part in helping North Korean refuges to safety in Hanoi this past September.

"The collar could come on trains, on the street, en route between safe houses. Many North Koreans are physically shorter than Chinese. And the police can smell fear," said Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea.

No one knows for sure how many people try to escape from North Korea each year, or how many are caught in the attempt. But they do know this: The number of escape attempts is tied to a roulette wheel of economic and political factors, including widespread famine and brutal government crackdowns.