Report on Foster Parent Programme

A Look Back — A Look Forward

Although it seems like only yesterday that Life Funds for North Korean Refugees started its Foster Parent / Education Programme, it was actually begun back in 1998. The intervening ten years have seen the Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun administrations’ Sunshine Policy and policy of engagement of North Korea turn into de facto support for the Kim Jong Il regime. However, with the February election of the hard-nosed, pragmatic Lee Myung-Bak administration, the relationship between South and North looks set to change to one of reciprocity.

This sea change will certainly have a major effect on the work of those helping North Korean refugees. Thus it seems appropriate to use this turning-point as an opportunity to look back over the last ten years of the Foster Parent / Education Programme.

From 1998 to 2003, most of the children were “kot-jebi” (street children), who were treated as illegal and undocumented by the Chinese authorities. As such, they were subject to arrest and forcible repatriation to North Korea. Because of this, the Foster Parent programme not only provided food and shelter, but also had to consider the safety of the children at all times. Nevertheless, many of the children were located and arrested by the police, and forcibly returned to North Korea, causing much anguish to their foster parents.

In time, the children who were able to remain with us grew up, and as they approached adulthood, it became clear how unrealistic it was to think they had a future in either China or North Korea. From that point, our goal became to help them reach a third country quickly and safely, in order that they might realize their dreams for the future.

Starting in 2004, many of the children who came to our programme where those who had left North Korea with their parents. Naturally, the parents were responsible for the safety of their children, as well as providing for their future, so there were a number of cases where the parents suddenly decided to remove their children from our care. At times we found ourselves at a loss, not knowing where the children had gone. Some of them returned to North Korea; others wandered around in China and later returned on their own, seeking our help once more. This consumed a great deal of our resources.

From around 2006, many children born to North Korean women and Chinese men were reaching school age, and they began to seek assistance from our Education Programme. Many of the fathers of these children had mental and physical disabilities and were unable to provide for their families. On top of that, many of the children’s mothers, who were in fact refugees, were sold into prostitution or entered marriages of convenience out of safety considerations. Many subsequently fled, leaving their children behind, or were arrested by the Chinese authorities for illegal residence and forcibly returned to North Korea without their children.

Very few of the children had Chinese citizenship, which would have guaranteed their legal status. In addition, their fathers lacked the will or the means to send their children to school, which in turn became a problem for the local communities. Citizenship in China is passed on through the father, so children born of a North Korean mother and a Chinese father should have Chinese citizenship. And from a humanitarian point of view, the mothers should be given legal resident status. But neither of these is done in China.

This problem and its resolution are the responsibility of the Chinese authorities. However, the Chinese government continues to be vague on the question of the children’s citizenship, even as authorities continue to arrest and forcibly repatriate their mothers to North Korea.

These children do not fall under the original mandate of the Foster Parent / Education Programme. However, as these children make up over half of the children in the programme now, we have found it necessary to adjust the goals of the programme to meet current realities.

Report Submitted by Wataru Takashi