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Our Activities in FY2005-2006


Current Situation of North Korean Refugees

Annual Report 2006

Activity Report – Fiscal Year 2005-2006

Pressure on the North Korean government by the international community is increasing thanks to greater international awareness of the grave human rights abuses committed by the North Korean government, in addition to the refugee and abductee issues.

With the passage of the UN Resolution on North Korean Human Rights, the UN General Assembly’s December 2005 North Korean Human Rights Bill, the European Parliament public hearings on the North Korean human rights issue, and Japan’s June 2006 North Korean Human Rights Bill, the net is narrowing around the North Korean regime.

The North Korean government faces increasing criticism from the international community over its criminal activities, including counterfeiting, money laundering, illegal tobacco production, and the illegal export of stimulant drugs. In addition, although the UN Security Council failed to impose sanctions in response to North Korea’s missile launches, it did unanimously (including China and Russia) pass a resolution criticizing North Korea, which has highlighted that country’s isolation. The pattern of China unwaveringly supporting North Korea, while Russia and South Korea acquiesce, is beginning to falter.

Appealing, however, to their common heritage as Koreans under the misguided Sunshine Policy, South Korea and the Roh Moo-Hyun administration argue that North Korea needs to be encouraged and have been passive with regard to the protection and admittance of North Korean refugees. The South Korean embassies in Laos and Cambodia have thwarted NGOs working to protect North Korean refugees, and have failed to fulfill their roles as diplomatic representative offices.

In Japan, this has been reflected by the two main associations of ethnic Korean residents in the question of unity between the two groups, as well as in the Mindan central branch leadership elections. One group is the pro-Seoul Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan), while the other group is the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun; sometimes referred to as a branch office of the Workers’ Party of Korea). In the elections, the pro-Seoul candidates were endorsed by the South Korean ambassador to Japan and the consul-general, who also pushed strongly for unity between the two residents’ groups. This met with strong opposition from the Mindan membership and was formally rejected, resulting in the resignation of the leadership.

Mindan’s North Korean Support Center for North Korean Refugees was providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean residents of Japan who emigrated to North Korea and then returned to Japan to settle. However, Mindan closed down the Support Center in the face of strong opposition, causing a great deal of confusion and anxiety for defectors who had already suffered many hardships in North Korea.

China still refuses to formally recognize the existence of North Korean refugees. Consequently, there is no end in sight to the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees and the tragedy it brings. Despite being a signatory to the Refugee Convention, China flagrantly denies the existence of North Korean refugees even as it ignores the protests of the international community.

Those working to provide protection and humanitarian assistance to refugees from North Korea continue to be arrested in China.

Activity Report

I. 

North Korean Refugees and Humanitarian Rescue Work

We addressed the problem of assisting, efficiently and securely, as many North Korean refugees as possible.

  A.

We expanded our links to cooperate with groups and individuals in Asia (South Korea, China, Laos, Thailand, and Myanmar); in North America (the United States); in Europe (Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, and Norway); and in Oceania (New Zealand).

  B. We effectively reported on human rights violations and human trafficking at international conferences, symposia, and to international lobby groups concerned with North Korean refugees and human rights:
    Spoke at the European Parliament’s public hearing on North Korean human rights issues;
    Spoke at the public hearing of the U.S. International Committee on Religious Freedoms;
    Spoke at the U.S. Asia Society Symposium;
    Participated in the international conference co-hosted by the Rafto Foundation (Norway) and the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (South Korea);
    Participated in the South Korean Christian Association Symposium;
    Participated in an information exchange with the Voice of Martyrs Christian association (U.S.);
    Participated in the third International Conference on North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (Mongolia).
  C. Assistance to Humanitarian Workers
    We provided assistance to the family of Choi Yong-hun, who was arrested and remains imprisoned for his attempt to help “the boat people” in January 2003 in Shandong Yantai. We also approached the Chinese and South Korean governments regarding Choi’s release from prison in China.
    We provided assistance to Phillip Jun Buck, a Korean-American pastor arrested on charges of helping North Koreans escape via the Mongolian route. Buck was released from prison in Yanji in August of this year and deported to Seattle, Washington in the U.S.
II. Protection of North Korean Refugees
  A.

Securing and building shelters

    Arranged three shelters in the Yanbian Special Autonomous Zone.
  B. Procured and distributed 500 sets of summer and winter clothes.
  C. Food Distribution
    Organized the ability to distribute 40 tons annually of rice-based foodstuffs.
  D. Provided resettlement funds and help in returning safely, for refugees expressing a desire to return to North Korea. Assisted approximately 20 such persons between January and March 2006.
III. Medical Assistance
  In addition to providing medical assistance to refugees, we assisted a defector who had been tortured in North Korea and who required treatment in hospital. We also provided 80 home medical “first aid” kits.
IV. Education Sponsorship Plan
 

The arrest and forced repatriation of North Korean refugees in China, as well as the detention and arrest of humanitarian workers continue. The detention of the head of the JRL-01 shelter by the Chinese authorities so frightened the 16 children living in the shelter that they dropped out of the education sponsorship plan.

In addition, some doubt arose that the head of the YAN-02 shelter was properly carrying out assigned duties. When it was suggested that funding would be stopped, the children were all released from the shelter. However, one of those later managed to reach South Korea.

At another shelter, one of the foster children was arrested on the way home from school and forcibly repatriated.

In summary, 18 foster children left the program, and two graduated from LFNKR’s education sponsorship plan. Meanwhile, eight new children were registered, and LFNKR’s education sponsorship plan continues to provide assistance to 20 foster children.

V. Food Distribution
 

We distributed 30 tons of rice-based foodstuffs within our shelters in China, and 10 tons of foodstuffs within North Korea. Based on the statistics for the January-March period, an average of 20 people per day (600 people per month) sought food assistance at our shelters. Based on a 500-gram daily ration of rice per adult, this comes to 30 tonnes, at a cost of 1.44 million yen (about $12,308).

In order for each person to purchase 10 kilograms of rice, we have budgeted 20 RMB per person, up to a limit of 20 people per day, for a daily total of 400 RMB (6000 yen or $51). This totals 180,000 yen per month, which is the limit of LFNKR’s resources.

VI. Immigration and Settlement Assistance
  Our priority is those who have fled North Korea and are unable either to return to North Korea or to remain in China and whose safety remains in jeopardy. We also assist North Korean defectors to reach safety in third countries.
  A. Protection through international organizations and diplomatic establishments (for security reasons specific names and specific numbers of refugees cannot be shown):
    In several cases, individuals were given protection by the UNHCR;
    In a number of other cases individuals were provided protection by the Japanese consulate;
    Several other individuals managed to reach safety through the underground railroad.
  B. Resettlement assistance within Japan:
    In the past, we have worked to resettle defectors with the assistance of the Mindan North Korean Support Center for Refugees. With the election of the new Mindan head, however, the organization has moved toward a policy of unity with Chongryun and thus an acceptance of human rights violations, which has ended our previously cooperative relationship. Repairing this relationship of trust will not be a simple matter.
  C. Japanese-language education:
   

LFNKR has provided its own Japanese-language classes to defectors; those who have completed the course have enrolled in a junior high school night program in order to receive a comprehensive education as well as to improve their Japanese.

To facilitate the resettlement of defectors, we have decided to formalize the education process, incorporating both Japanese-language courses, which serve as social education, and the formal education system.

VII. Expansion and Development of Partnerships in Japan
 

With enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Act (Japan) as a goal, we strengthened our ties with other NGOs concerned with human rights in North Korea.

The partnerships we forged with groups concerned with the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea broke new ground. These groups include the Society to Help Returnees to North Korea (HRNK), the National Association for the Rescue of Japanese Kidnapped by North Korea (NARKN), the Association of Families of Those Abducted by North Korea, the Investigative Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea, and the Association of Lawyers for the Protection of the Human Rights of Abductees to North Korea. Working together with these groups and cooperating on points of common concern contributed to the passing of the North Korean Human Rights Act in Japan.

VIII. Strengthening Relationships and Cooperation with International NGOs
 

International cooperation among those seeking to protect North Korean refugees and assist them in reaching a third country is vital. This year we also made progress in this area.

Korean-American pastor Phillip Jun Buck was released from prison and deported from China in August of this year.

However, Choi Yong-hun, who was involved in the 2003 Boat People incident, remains imprisoned even though he has already served more than two-thirds of his 5-year prison term. Increased cooperation is necessary to resolve this case.

  A. Expanding capabilities
    This year we were able to respond to an increasing number of requests to participate in seminars and meetings. Additionally, through our English homepage we have been able to recruit interns, who we expect will play an increasingly important role in our organization. As the human talent available to us expands to include those fluent in Chinese and Korean, our capabilities will grow accordingly.
  B. Increased presence at international conferences
    As international recognition of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees grows, requests increase from prominent international NGOs, as well as the U.S. government, to participate in symposia, conferences, and hearings:
    Participated in Freedom House Conference (Belgium)
    Participated in EU public hearings
    Participated as panelist in symposium of Asia Foundation (New York)
    Met with the U.S. President and gave testimony at the public hearing of the Committee of Religious Freedoms
    Was guest speaker at lunch symposium sponsored by Freedom House (Washington)
    Participated in conference co-sponsored by the Rafto Foundation and Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (Bergen, Norway)
    Assisted with the publication of “Are They Telling Us the Truth,” a book detailing defectors’ testimonies, in Esperanto.
IX. Seminars and Workshops
  Our regional activities in this area are still insufficient; there is an obvious and real need for further expansion.
  A. We held a screening of the documentary “Seoul Train” featuring defectors’ testimonies, in the Japanese cities of Osaka, Sendai, Akita, and Tanabe (Wakayama Prefecture), and held a lecture in Matsue City.
  B. With the cooperation of NARKN, we made a presentation on the human rights problems faced by North Korean refugees.
  C. We held a meeting at the Mindan offices in Nagano Prefecture to present testimony on the human rights abuses suffered by North Koreans.