Refugee Rescue Activities – 2005

Report Submitted by By Kato Hiroshi, Secretary-General, LFNKR

Here is the script of the speech I presented at the second International Conference on NK Human Rights “The Seoul Summit, Promoting Human Rights in North Korea,” held on Dec. 8-10, 2005 at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul, Korea.

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) was founded in 1998 as a non-partisan non-governmental organization with no political, religious, or corporate affiliations. It was funded entirely by the 20 founding members who each contributed $100 out of their own pockets. We held meetings in coffee shops rather than having an office, and did our photocopying at a local printing shop. The reason we decided to do this was that renting office space would have cost us $1000, money that could be put to better use buying food for North Korean refugees.

At that time, none of us could have imagined that international interest in the North Korean human rights problem would grow to the extent that it has, or that so many people would become involved in North Korean human rights issues. We were simply acting out of goodwill and trying to do what we could. However, in order to continue our relief activities, acquiring office space, computers, and a copy machine became necessary. Requests for assistance were increasing so much that without an office, we would not have been able to continue our work. We realized that expectations of our organization would grow as requests to assist North Korean refugees continued to increase. So in 2000, we acquired an office and were thus able to continue our activities.

Since the establishment of LFNKR in 1998, our priority has been on protecting and relocating refugees whose lives are in great danger because they can neither return to North Korea, nor remain in China. Together with our partners, we have seen more than 100 North Korean defectors resettle in South Korea, and nearly another 100 return to Japan. Our NGO has been responsible for the resettlement of approximately 25% of these defectors.

The defectors who have returned to Japan are those who were born and raised in Japan, and have family in Japan, but who settled in North Korea during the communist North’s “Paradise on Earth” campaign starting in 1959. It is not only Korean residents of Japan who went to North Korea during the “Paradise on Earth” period, but also Japanese spouses of North Koreans; in total approximately 100,000 people. If we consider those who have died in North Korea, or started new families there, the total number of those who considered Japan their homeland or for whom it would be possible to return to Japan is closer to 300,000. In spite of this, there are no more than 100 people who have returned to Japan from the North. The reason for this is that the ethnic Korean residents originally from Japan who went to North Korea are unaware that if they sought asylum at the Japanese embassy or consulate in China, they would be granted protection on the basis of their Japanese citizenship.

Nevertheless, the number of former Korean residents of Japan who are aware that the Japanese government will protect them and that they can return to Japan, and who therefore are seeking asylum, is increasing. In fiscal 2006 alone, the number of people escaping the North and attempting to enter Japan will likely surpass one hundred.

This is not encouraging. Even if the Japanese embassy and consulate undertake to protect asylum-seekers, until the Japanese and Chinese governments agree on the smooth exit of refugees from China, they are in great danger of being detained by the Chinese security forces and being repatriated to North Korea. Our organization had a case this year of a former ethnic Korean resident of Japan who was supposed to leave for Japan on January 7th, but who went missing on January 3rd. If the Japanese consulate is able to accept requests for asylum, it should also be able to provide protective custody. However, it did not do so. When the person who went missing was on the verge of returning to Japan, the likelihood of being detained by the Chinese security forces and being repatriated to North Korea was very high. This disregard for human life on the part of the Japanese government is a serious human rights violation.

For those who have left North Korea at the risk of their lives, and returned to Japan, many problems remain. Many people lack the basic everyday life skills necessary to adjust to life in Japan. Many were unable to obtain sufficient education in North Korea and their level of employment skills is low. In addition, their lack of sufficient knowledge of the Japanese language is a serious barrier to adjusting to life in Japan.

Under normal circumstances, it would be the responsibility of the Japanese government to provide to returnees financial assistance for the initial period in Japan, priority access to public housing, assistance in seeking employment, occupational training, Japanese language training, and training to facilitate the adjustment to Japanese society. However, at the present time there are no such measures whatsoever, leaving to NGOs the task of aiding refugees and leading them to safety.

There have also been cases of defectors who are aware of the situation regarding the Japanese government’s lack of support for refugees, and who give up on the idea of settling in Japan, choosing instead to go to South Korea. When viewed in this light, it is clear that the Japanese government will have to do far more for refugees in future.

Even when the government is presented with the facts by NGOs, there is no effort whatsoever to pass the necessary legislation. In the Diet, Japan’s lawmaking body, the only recourse with regard to resettlement assistance is to nonpartisan lawmakers’ private members’ bills. In the US, the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed by Congress, a budget implemented, and a special envoy on North Korean human rights appointed.

The Democratic Party of Japan has drawn up a draft bill proposing the creation of an equivalent Japanese North Korean human rights law. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is also working on a draft bill. Thus we have great hopes that in the next Diet session the “North Korean Human Rights Law” will be adopted. If this bill is passed, it is conceivable that those wishing to return to Japan from North Korea will be treated humanely, and will have the chance to start a new life in Japan based on their own ability and efforts.

The first major challenge facing Japanese NGOs in 2006 is the creation of the Japanese equivalent “North Korean Human Rights Law.”

The second is for Korean-speaking staff to be assigned to Japanese diplomatic missions in China, for the doubling of the capacity to provide safe refuge to asylum-seekers, and for the missions to expand their response to need.

The third is for the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights to be allowed access to North Korea in order to survey the situation.

The fourth is to work together with the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (IPCNKR) to document human rights abuses of North Korean Refugees, and, working in an organic partnership, to make serious human rights abuses known internationally.

The fifth is to draw up a report concerning the situation of North Korean women being trafficked in China.

The sixth is to mount an international campaign with NGOs around the world, to warn China that if it fails to behave in a manner befitting the host country of the Olympics, and continues to ignore international law in forcing repatriations to North Korea, the Olympics will be withdrawn from Beijing. And in addition, to approach the International Olympics Committee, as well as the Olympic Committees in each country with this aim in sight.


Kato Hiroshi
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (NPO)
A-101, 2-2-8 Nishikata, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0024
Tel/Fax: 03-3815-8127