Search Results for: 3 orphans

3 Orphans Freed

North Korean Orphans Walk Out of Jail

April 24th, 2:30 pm Laos time, the 3 North Korean orphans were released from the jail in Vientiane, Laos, and the consul accompanied them to the South Korean embassy in Laos. They appear to be out of danger of repatriation now that they are under the protection of the South Korean embassy.

We will give you more information as details become available. We at LFNKR wish to thank everyone for their wonderful generosity and kindness of spirit on behalf of these 3 children.

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.

3 NK Orphans’ Letters Released to News Media

North Korean Orphans Plead for Help

The three letters quoted below were written by three desperate North Korean children who are now in the Vientiane Jail in Laos. They are very aware of the risk of repatriation back to North Korea. The letters show their anger and their confusion over the situation but at the same time, reveal how desperate they are with their appeal for help.

Help Us Keep Our Orphans Warm

Because Donations Have Fallen Off …

One important part of our assistance efforts is the orphanages we support. Winter is upon us now, and the six-month cold season in that region always means heavier expenses.

Some of that increase goes for warm winter clothes, of course, but the bulk is needed for coal to heat the buildings where our orphans live.

2013 LFNKR Annual Report Overview

From 16th General Meeting. Oct. 20, 2013


LFNKR, in FY2012 (Sept. 1, 2012 to August 31, 2013), has witnessed improved awareness in the international community with respect to the North Korean human rights issue. The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), was established in Sept. 2011. This organization, which includes 43 international NGOs in 15 countries, is engaged in lobbying activities. The ICNK group in Japan, of which LFNKR is also a member, has repeatedly visited Japanese Diet lawmakers and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) as well as a number of foreign embassies in Tokyo.

Repatriation of 9 Orphans Draws World Attention

Heavyweight International Groups Getting Involved

The story of the 9 young orphans summarily shipped back to North Korea by the Lao government has captured the world’s attention and stirred strong emotions around the globe.

Amnesty International has issued an “Urgent Action” document as a call for the world community to take a firm stand against the reckless behavior of the Lao government. 

LFNKR Statement on the 9 Repatriated Orphans

These 9 Orphans Are Only the Latest Outrage

Since 1998, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), a Japanese NGO based in Tokyo, has been engaged in the rescue of North Korean refugees suffering from tragic conditions in China and some Southeast Asian countries.

9 Repatriated NK Orphans Face Life or Death

9 orphans sent back to NK

Sent Back by Lao Officials

Back in December 2011, a total of 15 defector youths, all of whom had once been Kot-jebi (homeless street kids), got together for a Christmas party in a hidden shelter in Dandong, China. Most look happy in the photo, but just a year and a half later, their fates have split between heaven and hell.

South Korean Embassy in Bangkok Told of Orphans

Notified by email

To help assure that the two North Korean orphans suffering from tuberculosis will immediately receive all necessary health care, LFNKR emailed the following message to the South Korean Embassy in Bangkok on Aug. 7, 2012.

Two Orphans Require Rescue


Boy & Girl Suffering from Tuberculosis

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) is currently caring for a number of North Korean orphans living in the caves of Chanbai Mountain in China’s Jilin Province. Recently LFNKR received a report from our local staff that two of these North Korean orphans are suffering from Tuberculosis.

Follow-up Visit with Orphans Held Last Year in Laos

The Choi children, one year later, with Kato Hiroshi and Kim Sang-hun, a South Korean humanitarian aid worker.

World Outcry Freed Them from Custody in Laos

Last year 3 North Korean orphans fleeing China were being held in a jail in Vientiane, Laos. When Kato Hiroshi visited them last year, the boy was sick from the stress of being in jail. At that time, Kato encouraged the three, a boy and two girls, telling them “Don’t worry, I promise to get you out of here soon.”

Former Foster Children Tell How They Became Orphans

Grace Yoon, whose father was arrested by the Chinese authorities on May 9, 2005 while attempting to help North Korean refugees, addressed the group.

Photos of the 3-Day Conference

Grace Yoon, whose father was arrested by the Chinese authorities on May 9, 2005 while attempting to help North Korean refugees, addressed the group.

International Protest Slated for April 28, 2007

To Save North Korean Refugees

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) urges each person reading this to take part in the International Protest against China’s Violent Treatment of North Korean Refugees. This Protest, led by NORTH KOREA FREEDOM COALITION, is scheduled to be held all around the World on April 28. North Korean refugees who escape into China seeking food and freedom immediately encounter a new problem – the constant fear of arrest and repatriation by Chinese authorities.


Annual Meeting Held in Tokyo

A summary of LFNKR activities during fiscal 2015 (Sept. 1, 2015 to Aug. 31, 2016) and the plans for the next fiscal year were outlined at the annual meeting. 

5-year-old Boy Enters LFNKR Orphanage

Rapidly approaching are the Christmas and New Year holidays – a perfect time for gift-giving. Perhaps you’ve been thinking of donating to a worthy charity. If so, may we suggest a very special group of orphans; abandoned children born to North Korean defectors in China.

The most recent child to come to our orphanage arrived just two months ago. Here is his story.

It was October 4, 2015, a Sunday, when, without announcement or appointment a fiftyish-looking man just showed up at our orphanage in China. With him was a young boy.


Frequently Asked Questions

About the Work We Do for NK Refugees


Q: What kind of work does Life Funds for North Korean Refugees do?

A: Life Funds’ work can be divided up into a number of different areas:

  • Work with defectors from North Korea
    • Protection of defectors, and provision of material support (food, clothing, medicine, etc) to shelters in China;
    • Support of those who went to North Korea during the North’s recruitment program of the 1960s (including ethnic Korean residents of Japan and their Japanese spouses) who now wish to return to and settle in Japan;
    • Assistance of defectors living in hiding in China who wish to escape to a third country.
    • Provision of food and a basic education to children who fled North Korea, through our Education Sponsorship Plan
    • Provision of food, clothing, and medical supplies to those living in poverty in North Korea (without going through internal channels)
    • Lobbying for the recognition of the refugee status of defectors from North Korea, and the dissemination of information about them both domestically and internationally
    • Assistance of North Korean refugees, as well as humanitarian activists, who have been imprisoned by Chinese authorities
  • Provision of resettlement assistance to defectors who have reached Japan


Q: Who are the children in the Education Sponsorship Program?

A: Our Education Sponsorship Plan covers children who are either living in shelters or in hiding with their parent(s). Although our primary focus is school-age children, older children who have not received a basic primary education are also included in our program.

It is very difficult for us to estimate the amount required per month per child for food and other costs. This is because of the sudden nature of additional costs such as bribes (when defectors are arrested), increased security at the shelters, and moving to a safer area. To cope with these unpredictable costs, we budget $130 (US) per child per month.


Q: What happens to children in the program when they become adults?

A: Once they “graduate” from the program, they are treated in the same way as adult defectors.


Q: What is the average monthly salary in North Korea?

A: Approximately 2,000-3,500 won. This doesn’t go very far, however. Because of the aging of factory buildings and equipment, as well as extreme energy shortages, productivity is only running at about 20-30%.

Despite this, if workers (especially men) do not report to their workplaces, whether or not there is any work to be done, they face stiff fines as punishment. Because of this, it is mainly women who work peddling goods for a small profit, or make clothing at home to sell, or otherwise engaging in commerce to make ends meet.


Q: Compare the average income above with typical costs for food items in North Korea.

A: We checked out the cost of staple items in the following major towns and cities as of November 2006:

Chongjin, Haeju, Haesan, Hamhung, Hoeryong, Nampo, Pyongsong, Sariwon, Sinijiu, and Wonsan.

Item Price (NK Won) Price (US Dollars)
North Korean rice, 1 kg *
700 – 1,100
0.22 – 0.34
Chinese rice, 1 kg *
650 – 900
0.20 – 0.28
South Korean rice, 1 kg *
650 – 1,000
0.20 – 0.31
Corn (maize), 1 kg **
300 – 400
0.09 – 0.13
Flour, 1 kg
600 – 900
0.19 – 0.28
Flour noodles
500 – 600
0.16 – 0.19
Tofu, one block
200 – 300
0.06 – 0.09
Soybeans, 1 kg
500 – 600
0.16 – 0.19
Apple (1)
200 – 500
0.06 – 0.16
Pork, 1 kg
2,500 – 2,800
0.78 – 0.88
Egg (1)
250 – 300
0.08 – 0.09
Frozen cod (1)
2,400 – 2,800
0.75 – 0.88
Dried cod (1)
2,700 – 3,500
0.84 – 1.09
Cuttlefish (20)
5,000 – 12,000
1.56 – 3.75

* cheaper in the rice-producing areas of Haeju and Sariwon, more expensive along the Chinese border

** cheaper along the west coast

(The actual exchange rate is:1RMB = 384-418NKWon; US$1 = 3,200 NKWon)


Q: How do North Koreans make a living?

A: North Korea’s food self-sufficiency rate is low, which normally would mean that it would be necessary to import the shortfall in foodstuffs. However, in North Korea’s military-first political system, almost nothing is budgeted for the import of such foodstuffs, including staples like cereals. Instead, North Korea has come to rely on international humanitarian aid to provide this shortfall. Even so, the discrepancy between the amount of food needed by North Korea’s people and the amount that actually reaches them is something the international community is well aware of.

Strangely enough, there has been almost no fluctuation in market prices of foodstuffs as of March 2007. From this we can infer that for those who can afford to buy, there is no shortage in foodstuffs whatsoever. The problem is the effect this has on people who do not have the financial resources to buy food. For them, it matters very little whether food is available in the market since they cannot buy it in any case.

Since North Korea’s food distribution system is essentially not functioning, except with respect to some elite groups and the security forces, for people suffering financially, the food situation has unquestionably gotten worse. Thus, those without the means of obtaining food—whether through economic resources, connections, freedom to travel inside and outside of the country, etc—are vulnerable to starvation.


Q: I’ve heard that the food situation in North Korea is so bad that many people are dying from starvation. How did this come about? And when did it start?

A: When the Korean War ended in 1953, the Korean Peninsula was in much worse condition than Japan had been just after the Second World War. In North Korea, which is smaller than Japan (North Korea: 120,000 sq. km; Japan: 370,000 sq. km; South Korea: 99,000 sq. km), the carpet bombing was several times greater than in Japan during World War II.

The Korean War resulted from a combination of several things. There was the ambition of Kim Il Sung, as well as the Cold War between the communist bloc and the liberal bloc. And there was the proxy war between the United States and the Soviet Union in terms of military and warfare technology rather than territorial possession or doctrine. During this time North Korea received enormous amounts of aid from the East-European socialist countries during their postwar recovery years.

It is known that North Korea received particularly generous help from East Germany and Hungary, as well as from Czechoslovakia, which was known for the high level of its technology, including ceramics. There was also help from the Soviet Union, Mongolia and China (Mao Tse-tung’s son, Mao An Ying, died in the Korean War).

All that aid is considered the reason for North Korea’s extremely rapid recovery. In 1959, only six years after the war, North Koreans returning from Japan arrived at Pyongyang and were astounded by the high-rise apartment buildings lining the street in front of the station. This was a surprise to the entire world.

South Korea lagged far behind. The world was surprised when former president Kim Yong Sam mentioned that, until 1972, the food situation had been better in North Korea than in South Korea. Economic development in South Korea didn’t actually begin until the 1980s when the country initiated a spurt of development in preparation for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.

Meanwhile, the postwar food shortage in Japan was extremely serious. Even some public officials died from starvation, as some in the United States felt that because Japan was responsible for the war, its people deserved punishment. Then the Korean War broke out, bringing a lively procurement boom to Japan.

Hence, it is not true that the food situation in North Korea was better than it was in Japan in 1959 when the homecoming project was started. I still remember eating kim- chi at the Japanese Red Cross Center in Niigata Prefecture in Japan in June 1961. It had been transported from Chunjin, and it tasted delicious, probably because of the various seasonings used. I was there to join the people going back to North Korea. The staple food was corn rather than rice, and fish was dried cod or the like.

North Korea then interrupted its seven-year national economic plan to improve the living standard. It shifted its national focus and began reinforcing itself for possible war after it seized the Pueblo, an American espionage boat. It had also watched other events such as the American U-2 espionage aircraft being shot down in Soviet territory, the Vietnam War becoming bogged down, and South Korea dispatching its soldiers to the Vietnam War.

Judging from those facts, it is reasonable to assume that the living standard (the food situation) in North Korea has not been improved since the mid-1960s. It appears that Kim Il Sung and the top Labor Party members abandoned their efforts to improve the national economy; they gave themselves over to luxury, depending heavily on money received from Japan. This included money donated by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, as well as other donations, gifts, and various joint ventures. Many such ventures failed, however, including the Kim Man Yoo Hospital, due to the departure of participants.

Still, we heard nothing of the new “starvation hell” until the 1990s.

This coincides with the stories that I myself personally heard from nearly one hundred North Korean interviewees, including defectors from that country, as well as refugees who had escaped into China and those who temporarily escaped and then had to return again to North Korea.

The starvation in North Korea became critical primarily due to several major external elements: the collapse of the Soviet Union; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of the socialist system in Eastern Europe; the recognition of South Korea by China; and the diplomatic ties with South Korea that China and Russia concluded. Thus, the flow of aid to North Korea in the form of petroleum and military economic assistance ended.

Domestically, the farming methods failed, including terraced fields and high-density farming, as instructed by Kim Il Sung, who was an absolute amateur in the field. At the same time, they had difficulty securing adequate transportation and storage, electric power, fertilizers, and petroleum. In addition, unfair distribution of profits discouraged people from working. All these factors contributed to the worsening of their food situation.

The personality cult system led to disapproval of engineers, false accusations, and negligence. If people protested the teachings of Kim Il Sung, the force of law was brought to bear, and punishment or execution awaited them. This is a sure sign of self-destruction that characterizes a totalitarian state.

The current starvation was brought about by the external and internal factors mentioned above, which is a great tragedy.


Q: They say that people are dying from starvation in North Korea, but people who have visited Pyongyang for sightseeing say that they saw no signs of a bad food situation. I wonder if the story about starving people is just a vicious rumor made up by an anti-communist group hostile to North Korea, or possibly a rumor spread by North Korea in attempts to get aid?

A: Pyongyang is the capital of North Korea. Foreigners visit there and foreign legations and mass communication media facilities are concentrated in the city. Pyongyang is the face of North Korea.

There are extreme restrictions in North Korea on the people’s freedom of movement and on travel. Without a special permit specifically indicating the necessity for a visit, ordinary citizens of North Korea are prohibited from access to Pyongyang.

They long ago expelled every physically handicapped person from Pyongyang, calling them disgraceful. This is highly aberrant, especially in view of today’s international trend in which symbiosis between physically/mentally handicapped persons and physically unimpaired persons is accepted as a barometer of social welfare.

Even in Pyongyang, however, the people recently have grown increasingly vocal about food supplies being in such short supply.

However, they will never ever allow sightseers from abroad to glimpse such a situation. Sightseers will find lots of food, beer and other beverages, fruits, and candies.

I am not sure, however, how you would react if you ever get the chance to try any candies in North Korea.

I once got candies as a souvenir from that country. They were dry and tasted quite flat (not sweet at all).

The people in North Korea are very proud people. They continued to insist until about 1980 that it was no one’s business if they worshiped one particular person, maintained their hereditary system, or poured 60% of their GNP into military expenditures. They also insisted that they were self-sufficient (although they actually depended heavily on financial support from China, the Soviet Union, and Japan).

We would be quite happy if the starvation were simply a vicious rumor spread by anti-communists, and if the people in North Korea were really living in comfort.

Unfortunately, however, the truth is different. The food shortage worsened after 1990, and especially so after 1994. Rations were completely stopped. Workers do not go to work. Children do not go to school; instead, they go to the hills in their neighborhoods and try to fill their stomachs with grass.

Murders and the sale of human flesh in markets were no longer uncommon. Drowned bodies of people who had starved to death have been found floating in the rivers at the border – bodies so swollen from being in the water that their clothes had split.

I directly heard the following story in China from one of the priests who care for orphans. Dead bodies become caught in the reeds and grass along the riverbank on the Chinese side, where they gave off a foul smell. The priests cannot stand the stench, and in one month alone they had to dig fifteen graves along the riverside to bury the decomposed bodies of starved victims.


Q: Despite reports that the North Korean people are starving, I recently saw on TV showing black markets in North Korea, and it looked like they had lots of goods there. Isn’t the starvation an exaggeration by mass communication media to earn high audience ratings?

A: It is true that the black markets have become more active recently, since the authorities are no longer able to keep a tight lid on them after government rations were discontinued. To begin with, even the authorities have to use the black markets to get food, and they probably are taking bribes and dominating the black markets.

It is also true that you can get anything, if you have enough money. The prices are extremely high. The average worker’s monthly salary ranges from 60 to 70 won, and this will barely buy 200 grams of rice or one pack of cigarettes.

In July 1995, we invited Mr. Kang Chul Hwan and Mr. An Hyuk, who had been in a North Korean Prison Camp, to lecture meetings in several places in Japan.

Because his grandfather committed a crime (he made the mistake of criticizing Han DukSoo, one of the managers of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), Mr. Kang Chul Hwan was confined in the prison camp located in Ham Gyong, South for ten years. He entered when he was nine years old. When he was released from the prison camp at age nineteen, he was only 153 cm (about 5 ft.) tall and weighed only 39 kg (about 86 lb.). In the next ten years, he grew to 173 cm (about 5.8 ft.) and his weight increased to 75 kg (about 165 lb.) This demonstrates how malnutrition can affect the growth period.

The recent food shortage has turned the entire North Korean country into a prison camp.

During the past four or five years, I have met probably almost one hundred people who have escaped from North Korea. Some of them have gone into exile in South Korea, some are refugees hiding in China, some are working in China away from home (North Korea), some illegally left North Korea, and some are children repeatedly crossing the border.

The children protected by groups of volunteers in China enjoy good nutritional conditions. However, when those children get a chance to eat in a restaurant, they are all interested in eating only meat because they are fed only greens. (However, this same eating-meat trend also applies to many Japanese kids.)

The children repeatedly crossing the border are in tragic condition. For example, a 20-year-old boy looks like he is only 15 years old, or a 17-year-old boy looks only 11. A 16-year-old girl who looked 11 didn’t even know about menstruation. Her classmates and seniors looked like they had completely stopped growing.

One 10-year-old girl had crossed the border fifteen times. Children are not supposed to be executed, shot, or imprisoned, but who can assure that they will not be shot by mistake from a distance? Age is hard to judge from a distance. If they are arrested, they are beaten and threatened, even tortured. One boy was attacked by a thief who left a sword scar on his face.

We clothed those children, who had neither underwear nor socks, and who had no alternative but sleep in open fields in temperatures of -30 degrees centigrade (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). We also bathed them (most looked like they had not bathed for five years, judging from the thickness of their grime). They had never seen shampoo. We fed them, and interviewed them to find out how their parents had died or been killed.

We found how limited our options were for helping those children; we could do nothing but shed helpless tears for the tragic circumstances of these children.


Q: I hear that the people in North Korea are required to get permits just to travel. Despite that, how do so many people manage to get to the borders?

A: That’s a good question.

In June 1961, I was at the Red Cross Center, preparing to enter North Korea the next day. Even the tax-free shop at the Center carried no maps or timetables. They said the maps and timetables were military secrets.

So, you can easily image how difficult it is to get travel permits. More detailed information is provided in the book entitled “Escape from North Korea” co- authored by Kang Chul Hwan and An Hyuk.

However, for the past several years, it seems that the issuance of travel permits has become practically impossible due to the discontinuation of rations in the food shortage.

The food shortage caused rations to be discontinued, even to authorities. This includes the police (security officers) and the army; it also applies to their families, of course. They are responsible for clamping down, but of course they cannot continue their jobs without food. The result is a lawless world.

Thus, people take any kind of opportunities to use transportation. They climb onto the roofs of trains or hang onto the couplings between coaches.

They risk their lives on the roofs of the trains; they may be shaken off or crushed inside tunnels. Do you suppose that those people paid to get train tickets or to carry travel permit cards?

One cannot expect to see such illegal free riders carrying permits or certificates.

Of course, not everybody gets the chance to move about freely. There are very few trains. Further, I have heard that it now takes five days from Chunjin to Pyongyang, while it used to take only three days. Likewise, it now takes three days from Chunjin to HangHum on the east coast, while it used to take less than one day. The problem is due to the shortage of electric power, which most seriously affects the operation of electric locomotives. Their great efforts to expedite electrification in the 1960s are now working against them.

It would be illogical to assume that many people make it as far as the border, because the borders are heavily guarded. The children from North Korea told us that few people make it to the borders; instead, they go to the area neighboring the train station in an up-country town (HamHung, for example) and try to board the trains, but that they die in ditches near the train stations.

It seems that many escapees jump off the trains midway and instead go over the mountains to avoid guards rather than taking the trains all the way to the border.

Such a route may be confidential, and should probably not be disclosed like this.


Q: How do the people in North Korea survive a collapsed economy?

A: Discontinuation of the rations has completely broken down the livelihood of the North Korean people except for some among the upper class.

As was mentioned, the average worker’s monthly income is 60 to 80 won, and this is hardly enough to buy anything.

Back in 1960 when the average monthly income of workers was also around 60 won, the monthly rent for a high-rise apartment averaged about 2 won. Rice was available for extremely low prices, and lots of other kinds of food, including fish and meat, were rationed. The utility charges were almost free, medical treatments including full nursing were completely free, and school expenses were of course free. If anyone wished, they could go to the Kim Il Sung University or even Moscow University.

People were able to save some money every month, and they got one-month paid holidays for enjoying hot springs. All daily necessities were provided, so even returnees who entered North Korea empty-handed could fully enjoy the warmth of their fatherland.

But all of that was false propaganda developed by the mass communication media in Japan. The returnees who believed those claims went back to North Korea and encountered a cruel fate at the hands of their fatherland.

It is known, however, that the returnees who had relatives sending them money from Japan, and the executives of the General Association of Korean Residents who were also lucky enough to have someone sending money from Japan were known to be wealthier than the original citizens of North Korea.

A woman I met in China in September 1998 said that she had been receiving two million yen (about US $16,400 dollars at $1=122 yen) a year from her uncle in Japan for forty years. After her uncle died, her cousins told her that they could not afford to keep on sending her the money. She, however, refused to believe that her cousins could not afford the money. She concluded, “In Japan, surely two million yen is just chicken feed. Bring me the money now.”

Here is another incredible true story. A child from North Korea begged me for money at the border between China and North Korea. I discovered that he was seventeen (hard to believe from his appearance) after we started to talk, and also discovered that he absolutely had to return home by election day to avoid serious trouble. Specifically, if he failed to make it home by election day, not only he but all his family members would be indicted for a criminal offense and sent to a prison camp.

I asked him, “How much do you need to save your four family members from starvation right now? I know you have risked your life by crossing the river and illegally entering China to beg. How much do you have to bring back to Korea?” He answered that he needed 150 yuan (about 2,500 yen or US $30).

I was shocked by the big difference from the foregoing story. This answer motivated us to start our campaign “One thousand yen will help an entire four-member family survive for a month. Donate the money you would spend for one lunch.”

Here is a recent private letter addressed to a cousin living in Japan.

“The situation here began worsening last spring, and we are now in terrible shape. The food rationed by the government stopped, and we have no other choice but buy black-market rice. My monthly salary is 100 won (note: this person is an elite living in the capital area), while one kilogram (about 2.2 lb.) of rice now costs 110 to 120 won. We cannot buy anything at government-run stores. Although starving to death never before even entered our minds, it is becoming quite believable these days. Because of malnutrition, minor health disorders easily turn into fatal diseases.”

Here is another private letter from a returnee to a mother living in Japan.

“My wage is 89 won, and my two younger brothers each earn about 80 to 90 won. However, we get only 20 to 50% of the wages because of the extreme shortage of cash. So, we get 10 to 20 won a month – 25 to 30 won at the most. From this amount, the fees for insurance, union, and social sentry are withdrawn from the wages, so the actual amount of money that we get is 10 to 20 won.

In the black market, 180 grams (about 0.4 lb.) of rice costs 65 won, one egg costs 5 to 5.5 won, 180 grams (about 0.4 lb.) of corn costs 35 won, one apple costs 7 to 10 won, and one persimmon costs 3 to 5 won.

There is a lot of uproar currently because we now have lots of thieves. Family suicides are not uncommon.

We are so lucky that we can afford to buy the black- market rice thanks to you, Mother. People over here are having a really hard time. They have swollen, yellow faces because of starvation.”

Does this mean that poor people must die? As a matter of fact, many people are dying from starvation. What a tragedy!


Q: How many North Korean refugees are there in China?

A: Because of the Chinese government’s tight control, it is impossible to conduct surveys to determine the numbers with any accuracy, but based on past figures provided by NGOs working in the field, it is estimated that there are approximately 100,000 North Koreans in China as of 2007. Some of these refugees are in shelters; others are living and working in hiding in autonomous ethnic-Korean areas. Female refugees frequently become the “brides” of local men—but in reality these marriages are little more than human-trafficking arrangements.


Q: Why does China forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees?

A: China continues to violate the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees by refusing to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees. China and North Korea have a secret agreement with regard to the forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees. China is probably considering its own position in Northeast Asia and the consequences if North Korea were to collapse. China fears that a mass influx of North Korean refugees could precipitate a collapse of the North Korean system. Both of those events would have an adverse effect on Chinese economic growth. It is likely also that China fears what the effect would be on the two million ethnic Koreans living in the border region, as well as on other, smaller, ethnic groups.


2 Executed, 7 to Prison Camp

9 N.K. Defectors Repatriated
7 Sent to Labor Camp, 2 Executed

An Example of NK’s “Humanitarian” Treatment of Defectors

In June of 2013, we reported on 9 orphans who made it all the way out of North Korea, across China, and into Laos before they were arrested and repatriated to the brutal regime they were trying to escape. (See “World Community Outraged by Orphans Returned to NK“)

Now, news is starting to filter out about what happened to them. The Dong A Ilbo website in South Korea reports that of the nine young escapees, two were executed, and the other seven sent to the infamous Prison Camp 14.

Joint Statement to Prime Minister Abe

Joint Statement from Five
Japanese & Korean NGOs

To Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

Request for the Permanent Resettlement in Japan of all Japanese Spouses and Family (including grandchildren) of Ethnic Koreans “Repatriated” to North Korea on the occasion of the Stockholm Agreement between Japan and North Korea

On the occasion of the July 1 initiation of the Japan-North Korea government-level consultations, we would like to express our deepest respect for your commitment to resolving humanitarian problems including the issue of helping those abducted by North Korea.

Emergency Aid Project to Send 10 Tons of Corn Noodles

Heaviest Rains in 40 Years Catastrophically Damage Grain Crops in North Korea

LFNKR local staff reports – the heaviest rains in 40 years have caused serious damage to grain producing areas in North Korea, including Hwanghae-do and Pyong-an Namdo. These two areas already suffered severe damage during the two previous years, and now they have been hit again. This, before they had a chance to recover from the devastation of last year and the year before.

Pastor Joo Tells His Story

Demonstrators protest Lao's repatriation of 9 orphans

Reported by Dong-A Ilbo (May 31, 2013):

News outlet Dong-A Ilbo interviewed the pastor who guided the nine North Korean defector orphans during their attempted escape from China to Laos.

We wanted to leave the Lao immigration center because something felt wrong, but the South Korean embassy told us “Stay”

LFNKR’s 2012 Annual Report

Annual Report Released at 15th General Meeting 10/8/2012

Attending LFNKR’s 15th Annual Meeting in Tokyo this year were five North Korean defectors who have settled in Japan. They talked about how they had managed to survive and how they made a living in North Korea. They also discussed some of the difficulties they endured before finally making it to Japan.

NK Orphan Needs Artificial Feet

Chong Il-guang's feet were frostbitten then burned severely

LFNKR recently received a letter from a homeless child (Kot-jebi) forwarded by a Christian-based NGO in South Korea. The letter was written by a 13-year-old Kot-jebi, who lost his feet due to frostbite aggravated by severe burns. Mr. Kim, a Korean NGO director, has been working with Korean missionaries and local Korean-Chinese to support North Korean defectors and Kot-jebi, homeless children. LFNKR has decided to join them to help strengthen their local activities. 

LFNKR Annual Report Released for 2011


The new currency system initiated in November 2009 by North Korea has led to serious confusion in the country’s economy. As a result, poverty continues to deepen. Around November 2010, even in Pyongyang where relatively privileged people live, the supply of food has stopped. The currency revaluation slashed the currency to 1/100 of its previous value, but by March 2011, the price of rice per kilogram had risen to 1800 NKW. This is the same price it was before currency reform, and it indicates a complete failure of the government’s plan to suck money from its citizens.

Classes Teach NK Refugees Language, Social Skills

North Korean Refugees Complete First Japanese Language Course

1. How the Course Came About

Currently, 200 North Korean refugees have settled in Japan, and this number continues to grow steadily. To help refugees merge more easily into Japanese society, it is essential to establish and promote various forms of aid, the most crucial being Japanese language training. Despite the need, this country’s government has, so far, developed no plan to aid North Korean refugees in their settlement. Consequently, such aid has only been provided on a small scale, and left solely to the initiative of private volunteer groups or the self-help efforts of the refugees themselves.

Hand Knitted Gifts for North Korean Refugees


Founding a supporting group

About a year ago, we briefly reported on a Ms. Warmheart, who hand-knits warm caps, scarfs and mittens for North Korean orphans. Since then, she has started a support group to encourage others to join this hand-knitting project of hers. The following is about one of the ladies in her group.

LFNKR Annual Report Released


When North Korea suddenly switched to a new currency in November 2009, the low limit for exchanges ensured that any savings accumulated in old currency by North Koreans largely vanished. This demonstrates that although the developing private market activity had only reached a rudimentary level, it was possible for people to accumulate new wealth. This growing segment of newly wealthy was dominating distribution and their voices began to be heard in their communities.

Former Foster Child Weds – LFNKR Invited

Mr. Kato and Ms. Watanabe stand in as parents for the bride and groom, who are both former North Korean orphan refugees.

Mr. Kato and Ms. Watanabe stand in as parents for the bride and groom, both of whom are former North Korean refugees. 


It has been ten years since LFNKR (Life Funds for North Korean Refugees) staff members working in China found 10 North Korean orphans who had fled to China to escape the starvation. These first children were the stimulus that prompted LFNKR to begin an education sponsorship program that would enable us to protect them and provide them with an education.

China Denies National ID for Shadow Children

‘Shadow Chidren’ Have No Nationality, Legal Status  

In China, the number of children having no national identity papers continues to rise, particularly in the provinces of Jilin, Heilongjang, and Liaoning where the trend is strongest. These so-called “shadow children,” born to female North Korean defectors and Korean-Chinese or Han-Chinese men, are denied the right to register as real Chinese, which means they have neither identification nor official standing. 

Financial Crunch Also Hits LFNKR

Feeling the Financial Crisis

Falling donations are slashing LFNKR’s rescue activities. This means disaster for many of the North Korean refugees now waiting for help. In fact, we can do less and less for them as our operating funds shrink. It’s a fact that most NGOs in Japan now face financial crisis. LFNKR is, unfortunately, no exception.  Some large-scale organizations command huge financial support from religious or political sources. We do not.

Tokyo Bar Association Awards Human Rights Prize to LFNKR

Kato Hiroshi, executive director of LFNKR, speaking at awards event

Kato’s Speech Text

Honored members of the human rights awards screening committee of the Tokyo Bar Association, and ladies and gentlemen gathered here today, I would like to express profound thanks to the esteemed Tokyo Bar Association for presenting the human rights awards for 2008. We at Life Funds for North Korean Refugees are deeply honored to receive your award this year.

Report on LFNKR Activities in FY 2007-2008

Annual Activities Report


For the Beijing Olympics held in August 2008, the Chinese and North Korean authorities continued their strict crackdown on North Korean defectors in the border areas and in China.  The crackdown was so strict that even the transportation of public supplies were mostly prohibited.

Nevertheless, the inflow of North Korean defectors into China has not stopped, although the scale of the inflow is smaller than that during the period from late 1990s to early 2000s.  The Chinese government still arrests and repatriates North Korean refugees, knowing that these people will be severely punished if sent back to their own country.

International society still repeatedly protests the repatriations by the Chinese government.  The UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has not yet been allowed access to conduct a probe of human-rights conditions in North Korea.

However, as the abuse of human rights in North Korea have become more widely disclosed around the world, international pressures on the North Korean government have grown.  For example, many nations have come to question the effectiveness of international food aid to North Korea and stopped responding to requests from the World Food Program (WFP).  There has been a tug of war between North Korea and aiding nations, which have specifically stated that they would provide food aid on condition that the North Korean government allow them to establish monitoring systems to assure their food aid will be properly used.

Reports from LFNKR local staff

According to recent reports from local staff members working at LFNKR’s shelters in the border area and LFNKR local workers in North Korea, the aged and children are starving to death in a village area located three railway stations inland from Musan, North Hamgyong, and deaths from malnutrition and starvation are starting up again in Hamhun, South Hamgyong and Chonjin in North Hamgyong.

Even large, first-tier corporations employing 2,000 or more have had to suspend their operations because they cannot procure materials, meaning that they cannot provide their employees with food. LFNKR has handed food to those people who came to China intending to return to North Korea once they had food.  During the past year, LFNKR has distributed more than 30 tons of food in the border area to these needy North Koreans.

Human Trafficking and Orphans with no Nationality

At least 60% of North Korean defectors are female, and most of them become victims of human trafficking.  Many of them are sold as brides to farmers in inland China because the villages in inland China are suffering from a shortage of marriageable women. Since the Chinese government launched its reform and opening-up policy, many young Chinese women in villages have moved away to urban areas in China, the South China economic bloc, South Korea and Japan where they can earn good pay.

In the Yanbien Korean Autonomous Region, about 8,000 Korean Chinese have been flocking to South Korea each year to work away from home. To fill this void, the Han people have moved into the region from other provinces.  The disappearance of the Korean Autonomous Region is considered only a matter of time.Many of the Chinese farmers to whom North Korean women are sold are incapable of making a living. Often they suffer from metal disorders, or have little sense of social responsibility.  Hence, if their North Korea wives are repatriated, the Chinese husbands tend to abandon any children they have.  This is why the number of children with no nationality is increasing yearly.

One of the major activities of LFNKR is to protect these abandoned children under its education sponsorship program.  LFNKR is happy to see those foster children raised under the program and eventually resettled in South Korea, where they can enjoy satisfying lives, attend university or technical college, and happily marry.[Chronological list of major activities during the last fiscal year]

Summary of Major Activities

  1. Participated in Thai International Conference on North Korean Refugees and Human Rights in North Korea held on Sept. 17-21, 2007
  2. Helped Tokyo Bar Association with their research on human rights in North Korea (Sept. 19, 2007)
  3. Held discussions with Guard Division, Japan Coast Guard (Oct. 2, 2007)
  4. Participated in Global Festival held in Tokyo to publicize the North Korean refugee issue (Oct. 6-7, 2007)
  5. Initiated a rescue plan for North Korean defector, Ms. R, who contacted LFNKR requesting help (Nov. 2, 2007)
  6. Successfully protected North Korean defector, Ms. E (Nov. 8, 2007)
  7. Attended at the 50th anniversary of Arakawa No. 9 Junior High School where North Korean defectors who have settled in Japan attend night classes (Nov. 11, 2007)
  8. Participated in NGO conference during the North Korean Human Rights Abuse Awareness Week (Dec. 14, 2007)
  9. Participated in the conference held in Sendai (city in northern Japan) one of a series of events for the North Korean Human Rights Awareness Week (Dec. 16, 2007)
  10. Mr. Kato, executive director of LFNKR, spoke on the North Korean human rights issue as a guest speaker at Christian University in South Korea (Dec. 20, 2007)
  11. Interviewed by Prof. Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN Special Rapporteur on NK Human Rights (Jan. 30, 2008)
  12. LFNKR received the family of a North Korean defector, Mr. K, who safely arrived in Tokyo (Jan. 30, 2008)
  13. Mr. Kato was a guest speaker at the international scholarly conference on North Korean human rights hosted by Christian University in South Korea (March 20, 2008)
  14. Mr. Kato was a guest speaker, at a public meeting hosted by Kanagawa Branch, the National Association for Rescue of Japanese Abducted by North Korea (March 23, 2008)
  15. Demonstrated with banners and placards protesting the North Korean human rights issue at the Olympics torch relay in Nagano, Japan (Apr. 26, 2008)
  16. Held discussions with NK & Beyond Missions International, a British NGO (June 6, 2008)
  17. Met with Open Radio North Korea
  18. Investigated development of a safe southern rescue route

Securing safety and protection of North Korean refugees

LFNKR has maintained a low-profile policy as much as possible in rescuing and protecting North Korean refugees. During the past year, no NGO humanitarian aid workers involved in LFNKR rescue activities has been arrested or held.

Most of LFNKR’s shelters, except for access points in the border area, are located in mountains to avoid the strict crackdown. LFNKR has supplied a total of about 20 tons of rice to more than 700 North Korean defectors and supplied about 500 sets of winter clothing and 2,000 pairs of socks to North Korean defectors.

One of LFNKR’s plans to help North Korean refugees wishing to settle in China is to help them acquire calves, so that they can raise and sell for profit. This should help the refugees become financially independent. This plan has been implemented at a few places in Jilin Province. So far, the plan has gone forward smoothly.

LFNKR has provided five North Korean refugee families (12 people) with protection until they reached safe places, and also helped one family (3 persons) to settle in Japan. LFNKR has assisted about 30 North Korean refugees in settling in South Korea. Among them are daughters of Japanese wives and the children of ethnic Koreans who originally lived in Japan.

Medical Aid

LFNKR distributed 350 family medical kits in North Korea. These medical kits were procured in China and Japan, and each kit includes pain killers, antiphlogistics, nutritional supplements, etc.

Educational Sponsorship Program

Currently, over 20 refugee orphans are protected under the LFNKR educational sponsorship program. Two new shelters have been added. The foster children under the program receive money to cover their living expenses and education expenses from LFNKR through its local staff responsible for the program. The foster parents are notified of how their foster children are doing by letters from the children or by LFNKR newsletters on an irregular basis.

Most of the foster children were born to Chinese men and North Korean women who were victims of human trafficking. These children have no “nationality” because the Chinese government continues to treat their mothers as illegal immigrants. Most of their fathers are incapable of making a living or are indifferent to raising children. Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities continue to arrest and repatriate their mothers, mothers who are trying to raise their children and therefore should be granted the legal right to stay in China.

It is a sad fact that the foster children are not allowed to have legitimate inhabitant registration certificates in China, so that cannot enter high schools or higher educational facilities, no matter how excellent their school record. Even if they try for a higher education, they are highly likely to be denied entry, and may even be arrested and repatriated. These children are abandoned not only by their parents but by the Chinese government as well. The number of such children now reaching school age continues to rise.

Assisting Settling in

LFNKR has worked together with other NGOs to help North Korean defectors reach safe places in third countries. LFNKR has helped a number of refugees settle in Japan when they have explicitly rdquested this by working together with related governmental divisions, NGOs, and the North Korean Refugee Support Center of the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan).

Among the North Korean defectors who have settled in Japan, those who are aged or suffer from chronic diseases receive welfare benefits, while most young defectors relatively quickly graduate from welfare and start leading independent lives.

International lobbying

Especially significant among the international lobbying activities were the field survey of North Korean refugees in Thailand and the meetings with the Thai National Human Rights Committee, the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Chiangrai Immigration Bureau as well as police in the Thailand/Laos border area. We held discussions with them primarily on human rights and how to improve conditions at the overcrowded detention center.

Former Foster Child in LFNKR Shelter Now a Mom

Baby Soe-hee was born in April 2008.

LFNKR’s “Grand Daughter”

It’s fun when we get to report good news. Last month, a baby girl, named Soe-hee, was born to one of LFNKR’s former North Korean orphans who attended our education sponsorship program after escaping from North Korea into China. Baby Soe-hee was born in April 2008.

Report on LFNKR Activities in FY 2006

Annual Activities Report

It is now obvious that North Korean defectors are being widely recognized and accepted as a legitimate issue by the international community. According to the resolution unanimously passed by the UN General Assembly last December, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea has been urging the North Korean government to correct its serious infringement of human rights and to allow the rapporteur entry into the country to investigate human rights there.

LFNKR’s Kato Speaks on Human Trafficing of NK Women

Kato Hiroshi, of LFNKR, speaks on human trafficking of NK women

Speech by Kato Hiroshi, Executive Director
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to be here today and I would like to thank The Committee for the Bangkok International Conference for North Korean Human Rights for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

Former NK Orphan Sends Thanks Email in English

Hungry to Learn

LFNKR members were excited to receive a series of emails in English from one of our former foster children, a North Korean orphan whom we sheltered in China, then helped escape to safety in South Korea. The young man, Chol Song Kim, was born 5 Feb. 1985. Although Chol Song received the bare minimum of education during his years of hiding, now that he is safe in South Korea, he is eagerly making up for lost time. He recently went to Australia for a short, intensive English course.

LFNKR Exhibits at NGO Festival in Osaka

LFNKR booth at One World Festival

LFNKR’s Booth at One World Festival

More than 100 NGOs and NPOs in Japan joined the One World Festival held for two days at Osaka International Communications Center (Feb. 3rd and 4th). Many groups participated in the event under the theme “Bringing the world closer through education, interaction and mutual assistance.” The groups are working to help resolve today’s global issues of environmental destruction, poverty, repression of human rights, ethnic conflict, and refugees. Approximately 12,600 guests visited the exhibition during the 2-day event.

LFNKR Action Plan for FY 2006-2007


Last year, a single charter flight from Vietnam carried 460 North Koreans into South Korea. This case had a strong impact on the international community and spotlighted North Korea’s human rights problems. It remains to be seen, however, what lessons it has taught the South Korean government, which fears a similar incident occurring in Thailand.

North Korea Calls Japanese NGOs Kidnappers

NGO Members Accused of Abduction

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 Beijing.

Interview with NK Border Shelter Staff Members

Human Trafficking and Starvation

Recently an LFNKR staff member visited some of the shelters in China being run clandestinely by this NGO. The following interview with a few local staffers working at one of the shelters brings us information about the recent food situation in North Korea and the victims of human trafficking.

In the interview, “LFNKR” indicates one of our people dispatched from Japan who interviewed “Local staffers,” who are the people actually caring for North Korean refugees and orphans living in our shelters in China.

NGOs, Lawmakers Receive Update on LFNKR Activities

China Claims 62 NK Defectors Not Repatriated Yet 

Beijing officials are denying media reports that they repatriated 62 North Korean defectors. South Korea’s Joong Ang Daily stated on Nov. 12 that China is denying earlier news reports of returning the 62 to North Korea. Authorities in Beijing are reportedly claiming that the defectors are still undergoing processing prior to repatriation at a detention center near the border with North Korea. 

Noguchi May Face Hurry-Up Trial in China


The trial of Takayuki Noguchi, the Japanese aid worker arrested by China last December, will take place in early May, reports Yomiuri Shimbun, the leading Japanese newspaper, in a 2 May article by Hong Kong based reporter Yasuharu Seki.

Noguchi, who was working for our organization, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), was arrested late last year for attempting to help two Japanese-born North Korean refugees escape from China (more details here).