It’s currently World Refugee Week until the 25th June and so I want to bring attention to some important issues and great causes.
You may or may not have seen my last post about World Refugee Day – in it I mentioned three refugee stories that have particularly touched me. One of those stories was about North-Korean-born Yeonmi Park, who escaped in 2007 at the age of 13 and resettled in South Korea with her mother two years later. You can watch Yeonmi’s incredibly moving One Young World speech (shown below) about her life in North Korea and her journey to freedom. She has also written a book about her life, escape and eventual resettlement in South Korea. (Link at bottom of this post).
You have probably heard the recent news about the tragic death of American Otto Warmbier, who was being held in North Korea after being sentenced to 15 years hard labour for stealing a propaganda sign. If an American tourist was treated this badly (North Korea usually makes a particular effort to keep American captives alive and well for concession and negotiation purposes with the USA), you can only imagine how badly they treat their own citizens. I hope this recent news coverage will bring more attention to the North Korean humanitarian crisis.
As I alluded to in my last post, one of the key problems is the how the media portrays the North Korean state (a nuclear-weapon-loving nation run by a man-child) versus it’s actual citizens. Yes, North Korea is absolutely an abhorrent political regime but we cannot forget its people who endure so many terrible things and are seldom mentioned in the media. Yes, this is partly because information about them is much more difficult to access compared to those in Syria, of example, but in some ways this makes their plight all the more urgent. These are real people who silently endure unimaginable horrors.
The sheer scale of the North Korean government’s human rights abuses is utterly mind-blowing. As Yeonmi herself said, North Korea is committing a holocaust of it’s own people while the rest of the world simply looks on. But there are ways us non-politician folk can help, which I’m now going to talk about. (I’ll also leave a list of resources at the bottom of this post – below is the trailer of a film I mention in the list).
Yeonmi says there are three key things we can all do:
- Educate yourself so you can raise awareness about the human crisis in North Korea.
- Help support North Korean refugees who try to escape to freedom.
- We need governments all around the world to put pressure on China to stop repatriation of North Korean escapees – write to your MP (or other government representative).
I myself knew nothing about North Korea, nor it’s brutalised people, until I was 19-years-old. For a teenager who was so interested in politics and Asia, I was so shocked to find out just how little I knew about North Korea. I changed that by reading as many books as I could, watching documentaries and reading articles. The more I learnt, the compelled I felt to help North Koreans in anyway I could. I realised that if everyone took time to learn about North Korea, just as I had done, we can collectively change things. I’m not talking about overthrowing the Kim dynasty or reuniting Korea – what happens in the future is anyone’s guess and is up to the likes of the UN – but I am talking about ordinary citizens of the world starting a conversation about ordinary North Koreans and, if possible, donating money to help rescue and resettle them. Everyone deserves a fair chance at life. A chance to fulfil their human potential.
If you can, I urge you to donate to Liberty In North Korea (LiNK). LiNK are a small not-for-profit organisation who have been working since 2004 to rescue and resettle North Korean refugees. LiNK do some truly life-changing and life-saving work and deserve far more recognition than they get. To date, they have rescued and resettled 618 North Koreans. There’s a lot of great information on their website about the varied work they do and plenty of tearjerker stories from refugees LiNK has helped. You can get involved by requesting a speaker or by starting your own ‘Rescue team’ at university or your workplace to fundraise future rescues.
You can also buy merchandise from the LiNK shop, which I’ve done several times. All proceeds go towards funding their rescue/resettlement programmes! Each time I’ve ordered t-shirts, I’ve got a really cute hand-written thank-you note which just makes my heart burst! ❤ And with my parcel from last December, they sent me a candy cane! 🙂
It might feel like we’re up against the impossible but by just publicly speaking about the North Korean humanitarian crisis issue, we will be that bit closer to making a difference. This issue will no longer be swept under the carpet. Talk about it with classmates, friends, colleagues; write to your local government representative; talk about it online – all these things collectively contribute to an eventual change. This is people empowering people.
Books to read
- Nothing to Envy – detailed real-life stories of six North Koreans: how they lived and how they escaped.
- Without You, There is no Us – Suki Kim’s memoir of her year spent teaching English in North Korea to the regime’s elite students.
- In Order to Live – Yeonmi Park’s autobiography, detailing her life in North Korea, her escape, and her eventual resettlement in South Korea.
- Under the Same Sky – Joseph Kim’s biography, detailing life in North Korea and his escape to the USA.
- The Real North Korea – a detailed analysis by Andrei Lankov who lived in North Korea as an exchange student and has devoted his career to understanding it.
- Escape from North Korea – Melanie Kirkpatrick details the vast underground networks in South East Asia that help North Korean refugees and the outside information that seeps back into North Korea.
- The Girl with Seven Names – Hyeonseo Lee’s autobiography; she escaped North Korea aged 17 but it took her 12 more years to be reunited with her family.
Films to watch
- Under The Sun – find it on Netflix. A clever and insightful film which the North Korean regime had not wholly intended to film. I’ve embedded the trailer further up in my post.
- North Korea Beyond the Headlines – a two-part talk by Professor David Kang.
- LiNK’s YouTube channel – a variety of different (and factually reliable!) films.
- Documentaries on YouTube – there are quite a few if you do a simple search.
Please feel free to leave comments below and start a discussion about this complex issue!