it seems like only yesterday that Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
started its Foster Parent / Education Programme, it was actually
begun back in 1998.
ten years have seen the Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun administrations’ Sunshine
Policy and policy of engagement of North Korea turn into de
facto support for the Kim Jong Il regime. However, with the
February election of the hard-nosed, pragmatic Lee Myung-Bak
administration, the relationship between South and North looks
set to change to one of reciprocity.
change will certainly have a major effect on the work of those helping
refugees. Thus it seems appropriate to use this turning-point
as an opportunity to look back over the last ten years
of the Foster Parent / Education Programme.
1998 to 2003, most of the children were “kotchebi” (street
children), who were treated as illegal and undocumented by the
Chinese authorities. As such, they were subject to arrest and
forcible repatriation to North Korea. Because of this, the Foster
Parent programme not only provided food and shelter, but also
had to consider the safety of the children at all times. Nevertheless,
many of the children were located and arrested by the police,
and forcibly returned to North Korea, causing much anguish to
their foster parents.
time, the children who were able to remain with us grew up,
and as they approached adulthood, it became clear how unrealistic
it was to think they had a future in either China or North Korea.
From that point, our goal became to help them reach a third country
quickly and safely, in order that they might realize their dreams
for the future.
in 2004, many of the children who came to our programme
where those who had left North Korea with their parents. Naturally,
the parents were responsible for the safety of their children,
as well as providing for their future, so there were a number
of cases where the parents suddenly decided to remove their children
from our care. At times we found ourselves at a loss, not knowing
where the children had gone. Some of them returned to North Korea;
others wandered around in China and later returned on their own,
seeking our help once more. This consumed a great deal of our
around 2006, many children born to North Korean women and Chinese
men were reaching school age, and they began to seek
assistance from our Education Programme. Many of the fathers
of these children had mental and physical disabilities and were
unable to provide for their families. On top of that, many of
the children’s mothers, who were in fact refugees, were
sold into prostitution or entered marriages of convenience out
of safety considerations. Many subsequently fled, leaving their
children behind, or were arrested by the Chinese authorities
for illegal residence and forcibly returned to North Korea without
few of the children had Chinese citizenship, which would
have guaranteed their legal status. In addition, their fathers
lacked the will or the means to send their children to school,
which in turn became a problem for the local communities. Citizenship
in China is passed on through the father, so children born of
a North Korean mother and a Chinese father should have Chinese
citizenship. And from a humanitarian point of view, the mothers
should be given legal resident status. But neither of these is
done in China.
problem and its resolution are the responsibility of the Chinese
However, the Chinese government continues
to be vague on the question of the children’s citizenship,
even as authorities continue to arrest and forcibly repatriate
their mothers to North Korea.
children do not fall under the original mandate of the
Foster Parent / Education Programme. However, as these children
make up over half of the children in the programme now, we have
found it necessary to adjust the goals of the programme to meet