Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Helping North Korean Refugees: Start With the Petition

Photo from The Scientific American, Nighttime
Satellite photo of North and South
This post is for everyone, but I had foreigners living in Korea in mind when writing it. I know that so many of us want to make good use of our time here, but sometimes finding outlets can be difficult.

The problem: Recently 9 of the estimated 30 North Korean defectors being detained in China have been repatriated back to North Korea where both them and their families will face execution or labor camps similar in nature to concentration camps. By international law, a nation is to accept and assist a refugee, but China considers North Koreans "migrant workers," claiming most move to China solely to work and then return to North Korea. However, accounts from defectors that ultimately make it to safety shed light on North Korea's harsh living conditions- famine, malnutrition, fear, oppression, family loss/separation, confinement, political camps/gulags/jail, torture, etc. North Koreans are willing to risk their lives in search of something else, anything else. Within the group of 30 refugees, there is an 16 year old boy with an older brother already in Seoul and a 19 year old girl with parents already in Seoul.

Why you should care- “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” - MLK

This is not a new issue. Every year thousands of North Koreans cross the border and every year hundreds are repatriated. Finally the issue is gaining a little support and momentum. If it continues to grow, it may be that the remaining of the 30 are spared and in a broader picture, that change is finally in our midst.

What you can do-

1. Sign this petition: Save North Korean Refugees #SaveMyFriend 

It will literally take you no more than a minute and is the easiest and quickest way to draw attention to the cause. This may be the only thing you do, but you will be making a difference.

2. Write a letter to the president/embassy of China:

This is another quick way to make a difference. Let China know the rest of the world cares and is aware of the situation. Write your own letter or use the template provided by http://www.freekorea.us:

His Excellency Hu Jintao
President, People’s Republic of China
Consulate of the People’s Republic of China
Embassy Address
Dear Mr. President:
Please do not send the North Korean refugees recently arrested in China back to North Korea where they face certain torture and even execution. We urge you to accept the appeal by the South Korean government to allow them to travel to South Korea for resettlement.
We understand and respect China’s concerns about refugees illegally entering China as they flee starvation and deprivation in North Korea. However, as a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, China is obligated not to force these refugees back to North Korea where they face certain persecution. Furthermore, unlike any refugees in the world today, the North Korean refugees have a place to go for immediate resettlement as they are citizens of South Korea, under Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic of Korea Constitution. In addition to South Korea, many countries have willingly accepted North Koreans for resettlement, so they need not be a burden on China.
As you know, the policy of forced repatriation of North Korean refugees has created an environment of violent activity in China where North Korean agents roam freely assassinating humanitarian workers trying to help the refugees, while the majority of North Korean female refugees end up being subjected to human trafficking. Instead, China should allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to assist China in addressing this refugee problem by simply allowing them to fulfill their mission, so this violent activity could end. As your Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai recently stated, “The Chinese government has the responsibility to protect people’s safety and property, and to curb violent activities. That is the most important human right for the people.”
Ending this policy would not only have a very positive benefit for China, but would also increase the potential for reform to come to North Korea, which is also in China’s best interest. The ascendancy of Kim Jong Un to power provides China with a tremendous opportunity to encourage reform there. The North Korean refugees, who risk their lives to flee to China, do not want to leave North Korea, but they feel they have no choice because of the conditions in their homeland. If China were to end its forced repatriation policy and work instead with the international community to resolve this problem, it would send a strong signal to the Kim regime of their need to open to reform, which China has been encouraging for decades.
Please save the lives of the refugees by allowing them to safely be resettled in South Korea.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.

(South Korea) chinaemb_kr@mfa.gov.cn 

Fax: (USA) 1-202-495-2138
(South Korea) 00822-7381059

Snail Mail: 
(USA) Chinese Embassy 
3505 International Place
N.W.Washington, DC 20008

There are other Chinese embassies in the USA if you are interested in one closer to you. 

(South Korea) Chinese Embassy

서울 특별시 종로구 효자동 54번지 110-033

3. Attend Events/Protests: The Save My Friend campaign is currently hosting daily events at which both North Koreans and passionate supporters speak their minds, share their stories, and educate. It all takes place in Korean, but when I went tonight, two people were kindly willing to translate for me. Attendance shows support and they are really eager to have it. Numbers mean a lot, so no matter who you are, how much you know about the issue, or what you can contribute, just show up and I promise it will be greatly appreciated. Here you will also meet Park Sun Young of the Liberty Forward Party and a North Korean doctor whom are currently on a hunger strike and camping out in support of China cooperating with South Korea's requests to have refugees released.

When: Every day through 3/4 at 2:00pm and 7:00pm
Where: Across the street from the Chinese embassy (서울특별시 종로구 효자동 54)
Getting there: Gyeongbokgung Station, Exit 3, Walk straight for about 10 minutes. You will be on the side of the embassy, so cross the street when you can and continue walking straight.

Photo By Imaag Studios, Park Sung Young's tent surrounded by candles

5. Read: All too common we hear/read about not knowing what goes on in North Korea because of how secretive it operates. While it's a very closed nation, indeed, there are the accounts of many defectors that illustrate in great detail the country's bleak state...and it's not pretty.

6. Spread the word: Post the petition on your  facebook, twitters, or whatever other social network you are using. If you are a teacher in South Korea, spread it through CoolMessenger. Or go old school and e-mail it out.

7. Volunteer: Teach English to North Korean defectors with PSCORE

8. Donate: Socks! North Korea Peace
-basic necessity especially in cold winters
-can be converted to cash in North Korea to buy food for 1 month (1 pair of socks = 10,000 North Korean Won = 10 kg of corn = 30 days of food)

Photo from Reuters at The Sunday Times, Socks are sent to North Korea with the use of giant balloons that carry
them across the border. 

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