Report on Our Activities in FY2000-2001
Current Situation of North Korean Refugees
There is no decrease in the number of refugees escaping from North Korea. Since 1995, we, the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, have been directly delivering food to those people in North and South HamGyong in North Korea who desperately need it. We feel that the flow of refugees has continued to grow since we began food delivery activities in 1995.
The ages of people, both male and female, who flee to China for the freedom to get food varies widely, ranging from three or four to about 60 years old. This is based upon observations by members of the Life Funds who are carrying out protection activities in the relief shelters along the border between China and North Korea.
The refugees we have met at the border between China and North Korea come from a broad spectrum of North Korean society. They include members of the Labor Party, supervising secretaries of low-level parties, servicemen, schoolteachers, scientists, workers, farmers, and students.
Reportedly, the rice shortage in North Korea totals 1.3 million tons. Meanwhile international aid has supplied one million tons, which means the rice shortage should have been largely alleviated. This rice has been supplied by the World Food Programme (WFP), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other international aid organizations, as well as from such countries as the United States, Japan, and South Korea. In addition, non-governmental organizations around the world have also joined in supplying aid.
Despite all that international aid, the refugees from North Korea continue to pour out of their own country, escaping to China, despite the huge difficulties they face there. This is proof that the food aid sent by the rest of the world is not being delivered to the intended recipients.
The Chinese government has maintained its stance that "undocumented aliens from North Korea are illegal immigrants rather than refugees." They arrest them and immediately send them back to North Korea. Thus, no undocumented person to escape from North Korea into China has ever been acknowledged as a refugee.
Despite strenuous efforts by NGOs to rescue North Korean refugees, such refugees in China experience extremely hard conditions. The Chinese government, in an April 2001 meeting, discussed national public security issues and established a basic policy.
At the meeting, government leaders, including President Jiang Zemin and Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, hammered out a "Strike Hard, Enhance Security" campaign to severely punish criminals and improve public security. Under that campaign, specific security actions and policies have been implemented in response to actual conditions in each local area.
An official document of Longing city in Jilin indicates another milestone for developing its security project. It included the dramatic improvement of public security within two years, digging up of clues for finding criminals, and the elimination of places where criminals can hide.
Although refugees forcibly returned to North Korea usually are in mortal danger, or at the very least face severe persecution, the Chinese government refuses to acknowledge them as refugees. They are simply repatriated to North Korea. This means that the Chinese government fails to observe the Refugees Convention, even though that country has ratified the document.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) stationed in Beijing, an Office that should be actively involved in resolving the distress of the refugees, is cozied up to the Chinese government. There is no evidence that the Office has made any effort to induce the Chinese government to acknowledge the status of North Korean refugees.
Repeatedly, any time an event has occurred, we have approached the appropriate authorities of the Chinese or Russia government or the UNHCR, even severely criticizing and warning them from the standpoint of humanity and human rights.
In June 2001, seven men and women ran into the UNHCR Office in Beijing, asking for protection. This event was internationally reported, and the Chinese government could not forcibly repatriate them, although they did not acknowledge them as refugees. Eventually, these people were able to decide, at their own discretion, where they wanted to live.
Thus, it has been proven that focusing international public attention on the Chinese government inhibits that government from unconditionally repatriating them to North Korea. This event is still only an exceptional case, but it demonstrates the importance of international public attention and an encircling net.
Of the seven refugees deported from Russia back to China and North Korea in January 2000, one boy, Park Choong-il, miraculously managed to escape to a third country in June 2001.
Even though the seven refugees were acknowledged by the UNHCR as refugees, they were sent back. The claim of the Chinese government that the North Korean people sent back would not be persecuted has been fully revealed as untrue by the testimony of Park Choong-il. This conclusively proves that the Chinese government has violated the Refugees Convention.
Our organization, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, has been actively working on the above case. Many other related NGOs have also been appealing to the relevant international organizations ever since the event happened.
Meanwhile, the North Korean government, targeting food assistance, has shifted to omnilateral diplomacy, and thus has had to make slight changes in its stance toward the United Nations.
The North Korean government, which once specifically stated its withdrawal from the Code of the United Nations on Human Rights, has created a situation in which the country must submit a written response to the investigation by the United Nations Human Rights Commission. They were required to provide explanations at the committee meeting held in Geneva, Switzerland on July 19 and 20, 2001.
The response from the North Korean government to our inquiry about the safety of the remaining six refugees was opened to the public.
It has been twenty years since the examination of North Korea was carried out according to the International Covenant B on Human Rights (the civil, political rights).
This indicates that the steady stream of appeals to international organizations by NGOs have achieved results at last. It appears that unrelenting efforts by NGOs on behalf of humanity and their advocacy of human rights are forcing the North Korean government into a situation where they cannot continue ignoring the human rights of their own people.
The credibility of that government's report on the safety of the remaining six refugees is doubtful, and there must be further investigation of its reliability.
We have achieved many results through collaboration with other NGOs, but many problems remain. The actual conditions are still serious.
Our Activities to Date
I. Activities to secure the safety and protection of refugees
A. The number of shelters changes according to needs
We have supported as many as 15 and as few as 9 shelters in China. The number of people protected by the shelters has occasionally exceeded seventy. In Russia, ten people were protected by each shelter. In Southeast Asia, a total of thirteen people were protected by seven shelters.
The escapees from North Korea whom we are supporting and protecting may be classified into the following three groups:
Recently, we have been unable to increase the number of shelters because the Chinese government is clamping down harder on refugees from North Korea.
- Staying in China for a time to escape the starvation, but wishing to return to their homes in North Korea.
- Illegally go in and out of China repeatedly to earn money, then return to deliver the money to their relatives waiting in North Korea. Strictly speaking, some of them may not qualify as refugees.
- No intention of returning to North Korea. Wish to move to a third country and reside there permanently.
B. Supply of clothing
Most escapees from North Korea come with only the barest necessities, so they are easily spotted at a glance due to their appearance. It is vitally important to provide them with clothes that make them look like the local Chinese; otherwise, they may be arrested and repatriated.
We have supplied the following clothes, blankets, etc. from Japan as necessary by carrying them when we visited the locations.
Summer clothes: 200 garments
Winter clothes: 150 garments
Blankets and miscellaneous: 20
C. Self-reliance projects
We are helping the refugees learn to earn their own living.
The wooden crosses are sold for 1,000 yen each, and the key holders bring 500 yen each. The wooden crosses and key holders are both popular.
- Knitting colorful cushions (35x35 centimeters). Each cushion is sold for 500 yen (about 4 US dollars), a profit that enables them to buy 5 kg of rice. They have sold about 230 cushions so far.
- Making wooden crosses, key holders, and the like. Profits from one cross enables them to buy 15 to 20 kg of rice.
These products have been selling relatively steadily, so we expect this program to become firmly established. However, one problem must be resolved, namely, inconsistent quality. We have occasionally found some of the products to exhibit poor finish.
We need to focus their attention sharply on this matter so that they consider the sales as a business rather than heavy dependence upon charity.
D. Medical treatment aid
We helped a female refugee, who had an abnormal birth, with the expenses for an emergency operation and hospitalization.
II. Educational Aid Program
We have established an independent department to take charge of our foster parent scheme and thus to strengthen the functioning of the operation. This is a considerable step forward.
As of now, our foster parent scheme has taken care of twelve children (seven boys and five girls). This does not include the four children who were arrested and repatriated during the large-scale hunt by the Chinese Public Security carried out in August and September.
These children under our foster parent scheme are supported by a total of 28 foster parents.
Because we believe that every child should have the opportunity to receive at least a minimum education, we hired a retired Korean-Chinese teacher to tutor three children at one place.
The three children were, for a while, admitted to a school for one of the Korean-Chinese after special measures were taken. However, the local Police Department issued instructions to send the children back to North Korea. In addition, the local person who took the special measures on behalf of the children was fined 5,000 yuan.
Education by the tutor still continues, but the class had to be moved to a remote mountain retreat. This indicates that conditions for the children are also growing more severe.
III. Food Supply Operation
We consistently continue our operations to deliver food to those who really need it for survival in North Korea.
We are developing ongoing activities to supply food through the regular delivery routes RN-01 and RR-02, and the irregular supply route RR-03.
In North and South HamGyong in North Korea, we have 25 spots in ten distribution areas. Our current goal is to cover 20 or 21 spots in one operation.
The monthly supply is equivalent to five tons of rice, while it was three tons in the previous fiscal year.
For this fiscal year, we originally planned to set a goal of 10 tons monthly; however, we decided that 5-ton monthly supply is reasonable in order to safely and securely continue consistent supply.
We do not plan any further increases in the amount of rice at this time, but the actual amounts supplied will probably be decided on the basis of actual need in tandem with our ability to fill that need.
IV. Emigration and Settlement of Refugees
Among the refugees who have fled political or social persecution in North Korea, we help those whose lives are in the greatest danger should they be arrested and forcibly repatriated, and who wish to move to a third country.
Although China has ratified the Refugees Convention, the Chinese government has been arresting and forcibly repatriating the refugees, as they continue to claim that there are no refugees from North Korea. This is an obvious breach of Covenant B of the Refugees Convention (civil and political rights). The Beijing Office of the UNHCR has been powerless.
Despite the difficulties, we have been doing our best to help those people in terrible agony or whose lives are endangered, because we simply cannot ignore them from the standpoint of humanity and human rights.
Our activities demonstrate how serious we are about the issue of respecting human rights for humanity's sake. Our members can be quietly proud of themselves, since we are successfully achieving what even the international organizations shy away from today.
In the past year alone, the number of refugees we have helped to escape through routes we have developed, bringing them to new places to live, has reached double-digits.
We regret that we have been unable to secure the human resources in Japan for this particular rescue activity, although we have tried. On the other hand, in the process of seeking human resources, we did get the help of enthusiastic Korean volunteers, which we consider a great success. Additional good news is that we are now successfully working together with international NGOs.
One of the largest, saddest problems is the fact that the activities we have described here should be actively developed under the leadership of international organizations, specifically the UNHCR in this case, but those groups have been lame ducks.
Financially speaking, it is an overload for us, just a tiny NGO, to rescue double-digit numbers of refugees through our underground routes. Nevertheless, how can we say "No" to the faces of those refugees crying out for help?
On the other hand, it would be irresponsible to promise them help without an adequate financial guarantee. It was painful when we had to ask some of our members to lend money to the Fund in order to maintain our underground routes during the past year.
In the future, when refugees wish to move to third countries, we should encourage their relatives to also bear a reasonable portion of the expenses, thus sharing the load.
It is obvious that we cannot continue our rescue activities by depending on borrowed money. We will not be allowed to continue as we have been doing in the past.
We need to find a new way that is better suited to continuing our successful rescue activities.
V. Working together with NGOs and international organizations
Working together with international NGOs involved in the issues of food, medical care, refugees, and the like in North Korea, we have achieved greater success in our efforts to relieve refugees, run shelters, and implement investigations and campaigns related to humanity and human rights issues.