Features

Underwater railroad

"Underwater railroad" Continued...

Issue: "False witnesses?," Oct. 5, 2002

According to The Chosun Journal, a website devoted to North Korean human-rights concerns, more than 10,000 North Korean refugees hiding in China were rounded up last year and deported to North Korea. Tragically, even those who avoid arrest may suffer a dreadful fate. More than half of the North Korean women who cross the Tumen River into China are greeted, not by Christians, but by human traffickers who sell them into marriage or to brothels, according to Suzanne Scholte of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Other refugees sell their bodies simply to survive.

To contend with these problems, Exodus 21 is raising funds to purchase a ship. The plan is for Koreans hiding in China to board small fishing boats, hiding under the deck, where they will be invisible to Chinese patrols until they are a safe distance from ports. They can then board the rescue ship and sail to freedom. "The Chinese coast guard doesn't board each and every ship to check. As long as we don't get busted before the boarding due to a leak of information, it's relatively safe to sail out of China and on to international waters," Mr. Shin explains.

The need for safer methods of escape was evident this summer when a survivor of a North Korean prison camp, Soon Ok Lee, described the horrors of camp life to a Senate Judiciary subcommittee-horrors that make it clear that when President Bush described North Korea as part of the "Axis of Evil," he wasn't exaggerating.

"While I was there, three women delivered babies on the cement floor without blankets. It was horrible to watch the prison doctor kicking the pregnant women with his boots," Ms. Lee recalled. "When a baby was born, the doctor shouted 'Kill it quickly. How can a criminal expect to have a baby? Kill it.' The prisoner-nurses, with trembling hands, squeezed the babies' necks to kill them," Ms. Lee testified.

Treatment of Christians was especially barbaric. "During the seven years I served in the prison, there must have been thousands of Christians who died as a result of punishment," Ms. Lee related. "They were treated less than beasts, sub-human beings, being kicked by the boots of prison guards and lashed by leather lashes. The prison guard was telling these people to say, 'We will not believe in God but we will believe in our leader, Kim Jong Il.' So many people died because they did not say, 'We do not believe in God.'"

In an effort to help Korean refugees, Sen. Sam Brownback has urged the State Department to review its policy of not admitting North Korean refugees into America. In response, Arthur E. Dewey, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, began a policy review-one that frustrated Brownback staffers say has been going on for eight months with no end in sight.

They're also frustrated that a Senate foreign operations appropriations bill, which would provide $80 million for a North Korean resettlement camp and to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that work with North Korean refugees, has stalled. If the Senate does not get the bill passed in the next few weeks, the funds may not be available for years.

North Korean refugees simply cannot wait that long. Many die in the attempt to cross through China into Mongolia. Evoking memories of World War II, Edward Kim, editor of The Chosun Journal, calls China "a real-life Casablanca," a place refugees escape to-and then wait, sometimes for years, to leave. While the State Department twiddles its bureaucratic thumbs, American citizens are taking action on their own. Many donate money to NGOs on the ground in China, which provide basic necessities for refugees as well as transportation enabling them to escape to South Korea and other countries. Knowing such help exists will inspire many more Koreans to escape the North, and the "flood of refugees from North Korea to China [will] cause unbearable pressure on both the Pyongyang and Beijing regimes, irreparably disrupting the status quo," Chosun Journal editor Kim says.

Sympathizers also donate to the Ton-A-Month Club, a Christian nonprofit famine-relief program based in Seoul, which mobilizes food aid for the most needy casualties of the North Korean famine. Volunteers send food shipments directly to needy North Koreans, bypassing government authorities. The group recently expanded its services to include assistance and shelter to North Koreans who have escaped into other countries.

Their efforts are not without risk. During the past nine months, China has arrested at least six missionaries-five South Koreans and one American-and charged them with assisting North Korean defectors. The missionaries were placed in long-term detention-the first time Chinese authorities have indicted those who assist North Korean defectors.

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