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Why This NGO Was Founded

A child writes her foster parents a letter

There are currently many refugees from North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) living in hiding in Russia and China. Credible sources put this number at somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000.

Among those refugees are many who crossed the border to escape starvation from the widespread food shortage in their country. Many others crossed the border to flee torture, prison camps or public execution.

Our NGO is just a small citizens' group in Japan. We have no particular political stance, ideology or religious preference.

We simply have learned of the refugees and their great difficulties. And we have heard their compelling plea: "We want to live. Please help us."

Some here in Japan protest that "this is too big a task for us... let the government handle it." Some say that "This is a Japanese NGO, so it should concentrate on helping only returnees to Japan and Korean residents in Japan.

But we cannot ask people their hometowns before deciding whether we will help them. We do not think it is right to extend help only if they have relatives in Japan, nor to turn our backs on them if they were born in North Korea. Every one of those refugees risked their very lives to escape.

Japan and the Korean Peninsula share a tragic history that includes episodes of colonial rule and wars. As a result, there were nearly 100,000 ethnic Koreans born in Japan who chose to return to their fatherland, though they had never before set foot on their native soil. In most cases, they made that decision after suffering severe racial discrimination and poverty in postwar Japan. They chose to try and help restore their fatherland, which had been burnt away during the Korean War, rather than sit and suffer silently in Japan.

With soaring motives, they returned to their fatherland with high hopes. But what did they find there? Rather than the socialist paradise on earth or the utopia that they had hoped for, they faced still further discrimination, piled upon poverty, heaped upon starvation.

One of the important lessons that history teaches is the importance of never discriminating against another for physical characteristics, race, nationality, age, handicap, nor any other reason. This includes country of origin, occupation, ideology, and creed.

How many North Korean refugees can be saved by this small, weak citizens' group in Japan? It is said that the North Korean refugees number possibly into the hundreds of thousands. If the North Korean state were to collapse, then we could conceivably see twenty-two million refugees.

These figures, though overwhelming, do not mean we should simply give up. What could we say to those who cry out to us for a helping hand? It is the warm humanitarian rescue efforts of each individual member of this citizens' group that stands as a beacon of hope for the suffering refugees who have fled North Korea.