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.

The Japanese envoy urged Pyongyang to return the abductees, draw aside the official secrecy that has long veiled the issue, and hand over the perpetrators to face justice.

In response, delegate Kim Chol Ho, who heads the North Korean Foreign Ministry’s Japanese Affairs Section, accused Kato Hiroshi, LFNKR’s Secretary-General, and 6 other members of Japanese NGOs of abducting North Korean citizens. Kim urged the Japanese government to hand over these 7 people. Each of the NGOs mentioned by Kim is actively engaged in helping North Korean refugees and escapees.

Delegate Kim said the crimes by these 7 are “conspiracy against the state” according to his country’s criminal code.

Kato and all LFNKR members work to provide food, clothing, shelter and medicines for North Korean refugees who leave their own country seeking survival. LFNKR also provides North Korean orphans with education where possible. In some cases, North Korean escapees have sought our help in escaping from China and resettling in Japan where they will be free from the threat of repatriation. The North Korean government has now labeled this help a serious crime.

How will international society react to this claim by the North Korean government? LFNKR is deeply concerned about these refugees as their country deepens its isolation from the world community. What the people of that country need is not isolation. Instead, they need the opportunity to work together with all of us to solve the issue of North Korean escapees, most of whom are forced into making desperate decisions to leave their homeland, seeking food for survival.

Meanwhile …

In the latest LFNKR report, staff members visited the border area of North Korea and China in January 2006, and brought back information about human trafficking that targets female North Korean escapees. Brokers routinely bribe North Korean border security guards and Chinese police to secure safe passage for these women into China. There, many are sold to Chinese farmers for 170 to 340 US dollars.

Most of these North Korean women quickly become pregnant and bear children. The babies are usually abandoned.

The children born to these women are illegitimate, even though the fathers are Chinese. The government claims that North Korean escapees are all illegal immigrants. The marriages are classed as unlawful, so the children are ineligible for schooling.

The number of such children will continue to swell until the UNHCR grants refugee status to the North Koreans who flee to China. LFNKR’s efforts to help are often frustrated because its foster parent program is unable to accommodate all the abandoned children needing protection.