The people of Japan were amazed February 7 when television and
newspapers announced that North Korea had accused Kato Hiroshi
and 6 other Japanese NGO members of abducting North Korea citizens.
Kato is Secretary-General of our NGO, Life Funds for North Korean
Refugees (LFNKR). The accusations came during the 3-day bilateral
talks with Japan that, it was hoped, would help to resolve the
ongoing dispute over Japanese citizens abducted by North Korean
agents during the last three decades. The talks were held in
The Japanese envoy urged Pyongyang to return the abductees,
draw aside the official secrecy that has long veiled the issue,
and hand over the perpetrators to face justice.
In response, delegate Kim Chol Ho, who heads the North
Korean Foreign Ministry's Japanese Affairs Section, accused
LFNKR's Secretary-General, and 6 other members of Japanese NGOs
of abducting North Korean citizens. Kim urged the Japanese government
to hand over these 7 people. Each of the NGOs mentioned by Kim
is actively engaged in helping North Korean refugees
Delegate Kim said the crimes by these 7 are "conspiracy
against the state" according to his country's criminal code.
Kato and all LFNKR members work to provide food, clothing, shelter
and medicines for North Korean refugees who leave their own country
seeking survival. LFNKR also provides North Korean orphans with
education where possible. In some cases, North Korean escapees
have sought our help in escaping from China and resettling
in Japan where they will be free from the threat of repatriation.
The North Korean government has now labeled this help a serious
How will international society react to this claim by the North
Korean government? LFNKR is deeply concerned about these refugees
as their country deepens its isolation from the world community.
What the people of that country need is not isolation. Instead,
they need the opportunity to work together with all of us to
of North Korean escapees, most of whom are forced into making
desperate decisions to leave their homeland, seeking food for
In the latest LFNKR report, staff members visited the border
area of North Korea and China in January 2006, and brought back
information about human trafficking that targets female North
Korean escapees. Brokers routinely bribe North Korean border
security guards and Chinese police to secure safe passage for
these women into China. There, many are sold to Chinese farmers
for 170 to 340 US dollars.
Most of these North Korean women quickly become pregnant and
bear children. The babies are usually abandoned.
The children born to these women are illegitimate, even though
the fathers are Chinese. The government claims that North Korean
escapees are all illegal immigrants. The marriages are classed
as unlawful, so the children are ineligible for schooling.
The number of such children will continue to swell until the
UNHCR grants refugee status to the North Koreans who flee to
China. LFNKR's efforts to help are often frustrated because its
foster parent program is unable to accommodate all the abandoned
children needing protection.