3 NK Orphans Headed for Classes in So. Korea

3 orphans held in Laos jail

Three to Four Months of Orientation Ahead

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.

In order 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 in taking the children. The Japanese government, for its part, specifically stated its desire that Laos not repatriate them to North Korea.

The children were greatly shaken by the visit from the North Korean embassy representatives. Soon after that visit, our group’s concern 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 expressed 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 defectors 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 family 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