The three young North Koreans who were imprisoned in Laos were
charged with illegal entry into and exit from the country and
given three-month sentences. After completing their sentences
in the capital Vientiane, they remained in custody because as
minors, they needed a guardian but none was forthcoming.
to resolve the situation to the satisfaction of the UNHCR,
American NGOs, and the American, South Korean, and Japanese governments,
our organization, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, applied
to become the guardian for the three.
The children all expressed a desire to go to the U.S., but the
American government dragged its heels on accepting them. The
South Korean government also stood passively by, and in the end
it was only the North Korean government who showed an interest
the children. The Japanese government, for its part, specifically
stated its desire that Laos not repatriate them to
The children were greatly shaken by the visit from the North
Korean embassy representatives. Soon after that visit, our group's
for the children led us to hold a press conference on April 12th
at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo.
Ultimately, the Laotian government released the children to
the custody of the South Korean government after verifying that
the South Koreans were willing to accept them.
They came under
South Korean protection on April 24th and departed Bangkok
early on the morning of the 25th, arriving at Incheon International
Airport at 6:00 a.m., April 26th. The three had originally
their desire to go to the U.S., but changed their minds after
learning that the process for entering the U.S. would take
an additional 6-8 months.
The children’s first month in South Korea will consist
of a screening process by the Taesun Konsa, a branch of the National
Intelligence Service. During this time, they will be confined
to a facility where they not be allowed any contact with the
outside. They will be debriefed about their reasons for leaving
North Korea as well as the period between leaving the North and
coming under the protection of the South. The children have just
begun the interview process for this screening.
Following the NIS investigation, they
will be transferred to Hanawon, a facility dedicated to helping
integrate into South Korean society. They will remain in Hanawon
for 3-4 months, during which time they will receive basic instruction
in the workings of South Korean society and knowledge needed
to manage everyday life such as banking, shopping, use of public
transport, and the medical system. They will also get an overview
of the South’s educational system, as well as some basic
occupational training. All North Korean defectors go through
this 3-4 month period before actual resettlement can take place;
therefore, we expect we will be able to meet the children toward
the end of July or the beginning of August.
Choi Hyuk and Choi Hyang, the brother and sister, are orphans,
so upon completing their time at Hanawon they will enter an orphanage
run by a Christian church. Choi Hyang Mi, who is 18, will likely
do the same. All three children will, therefore, be provided
all the basic necessities including education. The South Korean
government has also pledged to provide necessary financial assistance.
After leaving Hanawon, defectors are permitted to give interviews,
but only with special permission. They are, however,free to meet
whomever they wish. If, at this time, a potential adoptive
comes forward, they and the children will interview each other
a number of times in order to get to know each other and reach
agreement about adoption.
The Holt international adoption agency,
has an office in Korea and can provide information to potential
adoptive families on the process.
We believe that these three young North Koreans are somewhat
aware of recent events leading up to their arrival in South Korea,
but they may not realize the full extent of the international
community’s support for and goodwill toward them. For that
reason, we plan to visit them as soon as they have completed
the Hanawon program and settled into life in the orphanage