One LFNKR Aid Center Closed Down

“I can no longer help defectors,” Mr. Kim told me.

For the past three years, he has worked with us, continually facing danger and difficulty as he has aided defectors. He is the person running JSH-01, one of five shelters situated along the Sino-Korean border. Recently, he has grown increasingly anxious as Chinese public safety and border defense units toughened their crackdown even further.

Mr. Kim explained the situation and expressed regret that he was no longer able to help.

Even North Korean Guards Crossed Over

Ten years ago, around the time when the first defectors came to his house, North Korean guards also crossed over the border. They would often enter the relatively isolated house and say, “Give us food.” When that happened, they were fed at least one full meal. And there were many times when he gave them 40 to 50 kilos of food rations to take home.

He sheltered many North Koreans who were complete strangers, and in one case, a family of four stayed at his home for several months. When the authorities found out about this, he was punished and fined. If hungry defectors banged on his door in the middle of the night, he would let them in, allow them to eat their fill, and provide lodging for the night.

Over the years, he has paid countless fines of 100 to 200 yuan for sheltering defectors. This is a significant hardship for Mr. Kim whose cash income is meager. Nevertheless, when he saw the situation of his own Korean people – adults, the elderly, and families with children weak from hunger – he could not turn a blind eye.

According to Mr. Kim, there are Koreans who have no conscience and use defectors to make money. He believes that as the number of defectors has increased, many Koreans have profited by engaging in human trafficking. It is appropriate for the Chinese legal system to judge such people harshly for their lack of humanity.

Humanitarian Aid Is an Illegal Act

Even though Mr. Kim’s aid to defectors is humanitarian, the activity is considered illegal and he is, therefore, punished. His activities consist mainly of collecting food rations, even in small amounts, from people who are sympathetic to North Koreans. He also accepts aid from civic groups abroad as well as Christian Korean groups.

Of course, he keeps his defector aid activities secret. This is because the Chinese government forbids such activities. If aid activity is discovered, it is punished. In order to avoid detection, it is carried out secretly and only on a small scale. This assistance is for people who are starving and malnourished. However, the most controversial issue surrounding defector aid is the participation of Korean and Korean American Christian groups.

Mr. Kim says that there are devout Christians in those places. But it is difficult for him to understand their activities. Specifically, it is hard to distinguish between their defector aid and their religious activities.

Not Humanitarian Aid but Missionary Work

In the case of Korean Christian groups, Mr. Kim says their religious missionary work often takes precedence over the human rights of defectors. This may be because each group works independently, on its own.

Although defector aid is humanitarian action, this action runs counter to the policies of the Chinese government. It must, therefore, be carried out discretely.

Anti-Kim Jong-Il Handbills

An unexpected incident occurred this year. On February X, Mr. Kim was summoned by Chinese authorities and questioned about anti-Kim Jong-Il handbills, which had been scattered along the Sino-Korean border near the village where Mr. Kim lives. They did not believe this was the work of Christian groups, as the name of a Korean citizens’ group was on the handbill. Mr. Kim was questioned aggressively by the authorities. Since this was the first he had heard of the handbills, all he could tell his questioners was that he had absolutely no knowledge of them.

Until then, he had always cooperated with Korean Christian groups. In fact, because of his aid to defectors, he has been summoned by the authorities countless times before. He has been fined, and he has a criminal record. So it was not surprising that they would suspect him of cooperating with the group responsible for this. Mr. Kim was the subject of a persistent investigation by the authorities. When the 2-month long investigation ended, he was finally freed. The investigators found that certain villagers had been paid 200 yuan per day to pass out handbills along the border with North Korea.

In this case, Mr. Kim was released for insufficient evidence. But the Chinese authorities have now marked Mr. Kim as an individual to be watched carefully.

They Only Used Their Christian Faith

Until now, Mr. Kim thought of his activities as humanitarian aid, but he has come to realize that perhaps some aid groups are only interested in promoting their Christian agenda. Considering the issue of the handbills from the perspective of where Mr. Kim lives, their actions did not help defectors, but rather closed off a way for them to live.

Mr. Kim continues to hold on to his Christian faith, but he says he has decided that he will never again cooperate with Korean Christian groups or citizens’ groups in defector aid activities. This is an enormous loss for Japanese NGOs as well. Regrettably, nothing can be done about this. I am sorry to say that with this new development, one of our bases for humanitarian aid activities has now disappeared.

By LFNKR local staff member in North Korea