Current Situation of North Korean Refugees
Activity report – Fiscal year 2003-2004
Recent Developments Regarding North Korea refugees
the world has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number
of North Korean refugees who, rather than continuing to hide in
China, are choosing to escape to other Asian countries. Escape destinations
include Mongolia, Russia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and
sample of incidents illustrates the trend. In August 2003,
several North Korean defectors rushed into the Japanese Embassy
in Bangkok. The next year, 496 North Korean asylum-seekers boarded
two chartered jets in Vietnam bound for Seoul. Just one month earlier,
in September 2004, a group of 29 North Korean refugees, including
11 men, 15 women and 3 children, dashed into a Japanese school in
Beijing seeking asylum. In an inner Mongolian autonomous region
of China, a North Korean boy was shot dead by Chinese border guards
while attempting to cross into Mongolia.
the large numbers of North Korean defectors fleeing to
China shows no sign of abating. Accurate statistics, however, remain
elusive, since refugees must stay in hiding to avoid discovery by
poverty and famine in the rural areas of North Korea continue
to drive many to risk their lives in attempts to defect. Alongside
the famine, meanwhile, well-connected families in the ruling and
wealthy classes enjoy artificial prosperity in Pyongyang under the
dictatorship of Kim Jong Il.
sharp rise in defections can be deduced, however, in light
of the amounts of food and clothing that LFNKR has provided in the
our shelters in May 2003, LFNKR distributed approximately
300 sets of summer clothing, and over 400 sets of winter wear in
October. In May 2004, just one year later, we provided 500 sets
of summer garments, approximately a 1.6-fold increase over the previous
North Korean refugee situation is no longer a mere bilateral
problem between China and North Korea, but must be seen and dealt
with as an international problem that demands international recognition,
international resolution, and international intervention.
statements of the Chinese government continue to claim
that “there are no ‘refugees’ from North Korea”
and that North Koreans living in China are merely “illegal
aliens and residents”. Yet the numerous defections and attempts
to defect all across Asia clearly reveal the inconsistency in Chinese
addition to these claims, the Chinese government has begun
a campaign to denounce humanitarian aid workers and NGOs, claiming
that they operate a ‘Snake Head’ business of human trafficking
for economic gain that urges North Koreans to defect to neighboring
countries, foreign embassies and institutions. The government has
stated that, “If there were no NGOs, we would not have these
the Arrest of Humanitarian Aid Worker Takayuki Noguchi
authorities arrested the humanitarian activist Takayuki
Noguchi of LFNKR on December 10, 2003, during his attempt to help
two refugees escape to Vietnam. Both refugees were Japanese-born
North Koreans who were fleeing China lest they be repatriated to
North Korea, which would mean certain imprisonment and the possibility
of capital punishment.
demanded the immediate release of Noguchi and both refugees
under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees
of 1951 and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967.
Since China is signatory to these treaties, international law should
have taken precedence over Chinese national laws.
the Beijing office of UNHCR bears responsibility for protecting
refugees in China, it appears that from the outset they have never
been able to intervene on the behalf of even one asylum-seeker from
North Korea. Despite desperate appeals from both LFNKR and family
members, UNHCR was unable to prevent the repatriation of both refugees
at the hands of Chinese authorities. Now their fate may never be
date, the Japanese Foreign Ministry still declines to pressure
China in regard to its obligation to abide by the 1951 convention
and 1967 protocol concerning refugees, human rights, humanitarian
ethics and dignity. During Noguchi’s arrest and imprisonment,
the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintained that Noguchi
had violated domestic Chinese law. Furthermore, the Japanese Foreign
Ministry denounced LFNKR’s approach, claiming it jeopardized
the relationship of mutual trust with the Chinese government. The
ministry spurned coordination with LFNKR and withheld information
regarding Noguchi’s trial and his health throughout the entire
length of the ordeal.
the Japanese Foreign Ministry seemed to lack awareness
of the possibility of cooperating with NGOs, LFNKR was left with
no alternative for resolving the situation other than collaboration
with other international humanitarian and human rights NGOs. As
a result, LFNKR was forced to spend enormous amounts of time and
money to gain information about Noguchi’s trial and physical
condition. The psychological strain was likewise immense.
of the Human Rights of North Korean Refugees and Humanitarian Supporters
the 60th session of the UN Commission on Human Rights held
in Geneva in March 2004, UN special rapporteurs were appointed to
assess human rights conditions in North Korea and China. The rapporteurs
will submit their findings at the 61st session of the UN Commission
on Human Rights.
European Union has also expressed concern about the condition
of human rights in North Korea, and the topic has been raised in
the European Parliament and the EU Convention of Committees. In
June 2004 at the Periodical Conference in China, EU representatives
spoke about human rights violations in China committed against North
Korean asylum-seekers and the humanitarian activists who provide
the United States, Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, submitted
to Congress the North Korean Freedom Act in 2003. Renamed the North
Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, it has now been approved and passed
by both houses of the US Congress. With its recent signing by President
Bush, it is only a matter of time before the bill is enacted.
many other countries are re-considering their actions toward
North Korea in the light of the regime’s likely eventual collapse.
neighboring governments of Russia, China, South Korea and
Japan are not eager to receive masses of refugees. The United States
has been considering both scenarios and has taken the hard-line
position that the whether or not the regime collapses or continues,
the North must abandon their nuclear weapons programs.
the likelihood of the regime’s collapse rapidly rises
to exceed neighboring countries’ expectations and their ability
to prepare for a massive influx of refugees, we as NGOs should be
fully prepared for the worst possible scenario in order to maximize
our ability to help refugees.
Developing an International Framework for Solving the North Korean
Interaction with UNHCR
August 2003, LFNKR reached an agreement to hold a public
conference with UNHCR Representative Rudd Lubbers in order to establish
a common agenda for solving the North Korean refugee problem. However,
UNHCR unexpectedly reneged on the initial agreement, insisting that
their representative could not participate in the conference, nor
meet at the location LFNKR originally proposed.
certainly appears that UNHCR has adopted a lukewarm approach
toward improving the North Korean refugee crisis, despite having
full knowledge of the situation. Sadly, UNHCR seems unwilling to
take action where risk is involved. Results of our interactions
with UNHCR have led us to cease expecting them to take an active
part, since bureaucracy seems unable to respond adequately without
a great deal of pressure.
for the conference was greatly delayed by the arrest, trial, and
eight-month imprisonment of LFNKR’s Takayuki Noguchi in China
for assisting North Korean asylum-seekers. Notwithstanding this
blow to our activities, our international conference successfully
took place in Tokyo on July 18-19. Approximately 100 people from
six countries (Japan, Korea, China, United States, New Zealand and
France) participated in the conference; Belgium also joined the
conference via electronic mail.
the goal of holding a joint convention with UNHCR was not
realized, the Tokyo conference was not unproductive in the least
as the assembled parties reached agreement upon “The Plan
for an International Action Program for North Korean Refugees &
Pressuring the Chinese Government to Respect Human Rights
has consistently aimed to pressure the Chinese government,
and considerable efficiency has been achieved in cooperation with
other NGOs, as well as in lobbying U.S. and European governments
to pressure China. An unforeseen benefit of Noguchi’s arrest
was the opportunity to work and develop cooperative relationships
with lawyers active in international affairs. Nevertheless, the
Chinese government remains obstinate in its intolerance of human
rights in regards to North Korean refugees, and we have yet to discover
a channel for discourse over this issue. Creating such a dialogue
should be a top priority.
Creating a Coalition for Boycotting the Beijing Olympic Games
initiative to create an international boycott of the Beijing
Olympics has gone through some alterations as we evaluate whether
a tough or soft approach would better effect change for North Korean
refugees. Although this effort must proceed with international cooperation,
we have not yet approached enough co-sponsors of the Olympic games.
Campaign to Secure Safety and Protection for North Korean Refugees
LFNKR is currently operating a number of much-needed shelters for
High Distribution of Summer and Winter Clothes
2003, LFNKR distributed winter clothes for 400 people,
and in 2004, summer clothes for 500 people. These figures exceed
the number of people LFNKR can reasonably protect. Urgent dispersion
of this crisis is necessary in order to ensure the safety and security
of existing shelters and refugees.
Helping Refugees Return to North Korea
to the traumatic intensity of the Chinese government’s
crackdown on refugees, some escapees would prefer to return to North
Korea. Adding to the pressure upon refugees, the government offers
local Chinese residents bounties for turning in refugees. Furthermore,
those who are caught running shelters, harboring or assisting North
Korean refugees are arrested and fined by Chinese security authorities.
Admittedly, LFNKR had not planned for this scenario in the previous
year. While escapees would be free from the anxiety of capture by
Chinese police or Chinese residents looking to collect rewards for
their capture, the return to North Korea is not without its own
life-threatening risks. However, should refugees choose this course,
they are given three to four months living allowance.
Distribution of Provisions
I) Distribution to Shelters
have been distributing provisions to an undisclosed number
of shelters in three provinces: Jilin Province, Heilongjiang Province
and Liaoning Province, as well as other regions, both rural and
urban. Approximately 300g of rice per person and 2.7 tons per month
have been allocated.
Distribution in North Korea
inside North Korea to especially needy cases is possible
through influential persons within the country. New temporary ration
lines have been set up to replace the ones lost when Mr. Kato, secretary-general
of LFNKR, was illegally restrained by Chinese authorities. Multiple
lines of distribution function regularly and irregularly, sending
aid to those who are in extreme need and are not of the privileged
elite or responsible for human rights violations. An experimental
ration of provisions was given this year for a school and schoolteacher,
and the total amount of distribution totaled 24 tons.
Rescuing Refugees from Human Trafficking
16-year-old girl who escaped from North Korea was sold
by traffickers to a farm worker living in the suburbs of Beijing.
We were able to rescue her by paying the farm worker 3000 yuan.
This case is only the tip of the iceberg. Similar incidents abound,
particularly those of many female refugees who have no choice but
to marry into local villages or be sold as prostitutes throughout
the region. Though human trafficking is illegal under both international
and Chinese law, North Korean refugees are considered illegal immigrants
in China and so have little or no possibility of appealing to Chinese
authorities for protection from traffickers.
3. Medical Aid
has provided support for refugees’ medical expenses,
including funding one woman’s hospitalization for frostbite.
While engaged in ‘Operation Food Supply’ in North Korea,
LFNKR has also supplied digestive medicine, gastrointestinal medicine,
antifebrile and anti-inflammatory medicine as well as food supplies.
has continued to help refugees produce colorful knit “zabuton”
cushion covers, which are sold in Japan and overseas for 500 yen
(about $5). The buyers are informed that even such a small amount
can buy 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of rice, enabling a refugee to
eat for three weeks.
Foster Parent Program
Chinese government appears to have intensified its crackdown
against North Korean refugees and humanitarian aid workers, causing
a devastating impact on our foster parent program.
one particular case, one of our foster children barely survived
a surprise raid on his shelter by Chinese border guards. Although
we lost contact with him for some time, we were later able to receive
him back into our care.
LFNKR started the fostering program Chinese authorities
had not been hunting refugees so intensely, and we were able to
entertain hopes that our foster children could receive basic and
even higher education. However, after struggling in our activities
for six years under the Chinese government’s tight system
of control, we are coming to realize that our hopes will likely
never be attained.
a new issue arose at LFNKR’s sixth annual meeting—how
we will support foster children as they reach adulthood. After prolonged
deliberation and panning, we have so far managed to help some of
them escape from China to South Korea. They are now under the protection
and care of a local NGO in South Korea, and their resettlement seems
to be progressing well according to regular reports.
also gave medical aid and covered expenses for one foster
child who was in danger of losing his sight after an assault. We
are pleased to report that he has fully recovered.
the severe repression towards refugees from the Chinese
authorities, the number of children seeking our support and educational
help has increased rather than decreased, and the total number of
foster children in our program has reached 35.
are also very grateful that the number of foster parents
supporting the children has been steadily increasing as well.
6. Supporting Immigration and Settlements
failure of last December’s operation cost LFNKR the
arrest of Noguchi and probably the lives of two North Korean asylum-seekers.
It is possible that these types of operations may no longer be feasible,
as it is quite difficult to re-establish the structural side of
such operations. Although LFNKR does not wish to turn down requests
from refugees seeking escape from China and resettlement abroad,
the difficulty of the task has greatly increased due to the recent
governmental crackdown, the failure of Noguchi’s mission and
the negative publicity that followed.
Resettlement plan for ethnic Koreans born in Japan and their families
has been aiding the resettlement of Japanese-born ethnic
North Koreans who have been able to return to Japan, assisting them
in acquiring proper job and housing contracts, and providing them
with counselors in order to aid their readjustment to daily life
in Japan. The Korean Residents Union in Japan has also aided LFNKR’s
efforts to resettle ethnic Koreans by organizing the ‘Center
for North Korean Defectors’.
is necessary for LFNKR members to assist and cooperate
in every way with the Center for North Korean Defectors in order
to help maximize their efficiency.
aiding the resettlement of defectors, LFNKR must give special
attention to the degree and extent of its assistance in order to
help defectors secure their own independence. Increasing defectors’
dependence on assistance from NGOs would be counterproductive to
all parties involved.
members of LFNKR believe that defectors and asylum-seekers
should be aided in their resettlement regardless of their cultural
backgrounds, family structures and reasons for resettling. Members
are to treat resettling ethnic Koreans both with great compassion
and with complete respect as equals.
Building an International Framework and Procedure
LFNKR’s International Conference for Protecting Human Rights
and the Pursuit of Refugee Status for North Korean Asylum-Seekers
those whom LFNKR originally expected to attend the conference
were the Chief Director of the United Nations High Commission for
Human Rights (UNHCR) and the International Parliamentarians’
Coalition, as well as various international NGOs. The Chief Director
of UNHCR, however, was not able to attend, and our schedule was
unworkable for the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition
due to elections and campaigns. Although the size and dimensions
of the conference were, as a result, reduced, the collaborations
between international NGOs and LFNKR were extremely productive and
signify that cooperation among groups with shared objectives can
do much to advance human rights in North Korea and across the world.
LFNKR English Website
English language website has received international attention
from journalists and NGOs as a reliable source of information on
the condition and plight of North Korean refugees. LFNKR often receives
direct phone calls from a variety of foreign media services asking
for interviews and comments on issues related to North Korea. Other
sources that have shown interest include three of the largest U.S.
networks (ABC, NBC, and CBS) as well as FRA and VOA broadcasting,
BBC radio, German national broadcasting network ARD, Le Monde of
France and API.
Donations from Overseas
has adopted the PayPal online system for receiving donations
from overseas. The PayPal system is well suited even for small donations,
which have been steadily growing.
LFNKR Staff Education and Expansion
of LFNKR’s primary goals for its staff has been to
improve their education so as to efficiently convey our message
all over the world. While this aspect has been seeing increasing
success, the need for more native speakers of other languages on
the staff has also grown.
Lobbying Japanese Diet members
some time LFNKR has been lobbying members of the Democratic
Party of Japan (DPJ). This has had measurable effect; in the International
Committee of the Diet’s Upper House, the DPJ Association of
Parliamentarians for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights has
brought up the issue of protection for NGO activists. LFNKR has
also been building a mutually cooperative relationship with members
of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan (LDP), although the relationship
has not yet reached a point enabling us to carry out more complex
cooperative activities with them. Having too few people to aggressively
lobby the LDP has likely been a hindrance to greater relations in
Resettlement of Defectors in Japan
ethnic Korean defectors are to be resettled in Japan, top
priority must be given to lobbying for new legislation to assist
their adjustment in securing job training, general education, Japanese
language training and housing. Lobbying personnel as described in
subsection (a) should be considered necessary and indispensable.
Lobbying the U.S. Congress and European Parliament
the groups LFNKR has cooperated with have been Defense
Forum, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and other NGOs in activities
at the office of the European Parliament in Ireland, as well as
at the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office for Asia and for
Human Rights. LFNKR received strong support from U.S. Senator Sam
Brownback (R-Kansas) in applying pressure to the Chinese government
over human rights violations when Noguchi was arrested and for his
release. Here again the number of personnel available for lobbying
the U.S. Congress and E.U. Parliament is crucially insufficient.
They Telling the Truth?” has been translated into
English and one thousand copies have been published. The book, a
collection of heart-rending accounts from North Korean prison camp
survivors, is an important part of our efforts to let the world
know about North Korean refugees and the human rights violations
committed by Kim Jong Il’s regime. LFNKR originally asked
for a 2,500 yen (U.S. $24) donation for the paper-bound book, however
the electronic version of the book is also available in PDF format
that can be downloaded from the LFNKR website. LFNKR has also sent
books throughout the world in response to requests from NGOs, research
organizations, and college libraries. All of the places we have
sent the book have replied with letters of appreciation.
Holding Supporting Conferences, Debriefing Sessions and Educational
the purpose of holding meetings and conferences was to
present information about the situation of North Korean refugees
in China. However, the meetings have not met our expectations chiefly
due to the arrest of core member Noguchi. Notwithstanding this,
LFNKR was able to give speeches, presentations and seminars at Kawasaki
Lion’s Club, Tokyo University Law School, the College for
Elderly in Kawagoe-kita Public Center, and Amnesty International