LFNKR Speech in Seoul
September 3, 2002
Speech Presented at the Public Forum for Solutions to the
North Korean Defector's Problem Held in Seoul, South Korea
Report on Our Group's Activities
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees is a Japanese NGO
formally founded in 1997 and dedicated to the rescue of
North Korean refugees. We would like to express our deepest
appreciation for this opportunity to deliver our message
When we started our activities for helping North Korean
refugees, North Korea was in a tragic situation. Two to
three million people were dying from starvation, and there
was a constant flow of North Koreans crossing the border in
search of food and freedom. It has been impossible to
monitor the effectiveness of international humanitarian aid,
including the supply of food, provided through the North
Korean government because of the nature of the North Korean
From the beginning, our activities have been guided by a
policy of always handing the food, medicines, clothing, and
other supplies directly to the North Korean refugees
Here are some specifics about our primary rescue activities.
Our first major activity is to provide shelters for
refugees. We have been providing small shelters in China,
Russia, and Southeast Asian countries by working together
with local people who are interested in the task. As you
know, North Korean refugees have not yet been granted
refugee status by UNHCR, and have not been properly
protected by international society. They are constantly
exposed to the danger of capture by Chinese security police
and repatriation to North Korea. At one time, our shelters
were providing protection to more than one hundred people.
Our second major activity is a foster parent plan to provide
care for refugee orphans. We recruit foster parents from
among the members of our NGO in Japan to provide those North
Korean children with safe shelters and the opportunity to
receive minimum education. Every month, a foster parent
sends 15,000 yen (150,000 won) per child.
Our third major activity is establishing and maintaining
secret routes for delivering food directly to the starving
people; this does not go through the North Korean
government. This project requires, of course, working
together with local supporters. We have been successfully
carrying food into North Korea through several routes.
Although we are a very small NGO group, we have continually
been supplying food, clothing and medicines, and even
This year, the situation of the North Korean refugees
dramatically changed. In March, twenty-five refugees dashed
into the Spanish Embassy. One of those 25 is a foster child
we had been caring for. Immediately before this incident,
we received a message from an international NGO ally asking
for help, and we assisted them in publicizing this to as
many mass media outlets as possible. Following that
incident, we have seen a steady flow of other incidents in
which North Korean refugees are dashing into diplomatic
establishments in China, and requesting asylum in South
Korea. The most dramatic of these was the case involving
the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang.
We deeply regret that some people are labeling these actions
by the North Korean refugees and aided by NGOs as "planned
defections." They tend to downplay the gravity of the
refugees' problem, dismissing it as simply the refugees'
desire for economic affluence, even though the refugees are
suffering under severe persecution and inhumane
circumstances. They support the claim by the Chinese
government who insist that there are no North Korean
refugees in China. They mislead people into believing that
North Korean refugees are just economic migrants rather than
seriously suffering refugees. This is sure to misdirect
well-meaning people who would otherwise be willing to help
the North Korean refugees.
We must emphasize that this series of incidents in which
North Korean refugees seek asylum in foreign embassies or
consulates clearly indicates that this is the last resort
left to them for their survival. They have no other choice
in their current situation. Judging from our interviews
with the refugees over the past few years, people in need
have been receiving far too little food. This means that no
drastic change has been made to improve the starvation and
oppression in North Korea, and this is causing the
continuing flow of refugees.
The Chinese government repeatedly claims that China has no
refugee issue, and the vice-premier in charge of diplomacy
officially stated that China has not been forcibly sending
North Koreans back, or that they will receive only light
punishment even if they are sent back to North Korea. He
has been saying that it is the basic policy of the Chinese
government to let those North Koreans stay in China unless
they break the law. This, however, is far from what the
Chinese government is actually doing to the North Korean
refugees. The Chinese government, in further reinforcing
its "Strike hard" campaign which began in April 2001, has
been attempting to track down all North Koreans hiding in
China at all provincial and city levels. They actually
reward informers that tell where refugees are hiding, and
they are ruthless in fining the Chinese Koreans or NGO
members who help and protect the refugees. The amount of
fines ranges from 20,000 to 50,000 RMB, amounts that equal a
university professor's salary for 20 to 50 months. To make
doubly sure that every policeman is seriously working to
arrest the refugees, the security police carry out strict
internal monitoring to punish any policeman showing signs of
sympathy toward refugees. Furthermore, they mete out harsh
punishments, including torture and violence, to instill fear
throughout the entire region.
Currently, the Chinese government is intensifying its
crackdown by making use of their legal framework, including
apartments for rent management provisions. They are never
generous to North Korean refugees. This means that those
who have defected to China from North Korea lose their basic
freedom to breathe and much of their chance to survive. The
defectors all know what awaits them if they are sent back to
their own country. They know that they will be punished
under Article 47 of the North Korean Law, which stipulates
that they may be subjected to forced labor for seven years
or more, or even receive the death penalty plus confiscation
of all assets. Whatever reasons they may have for leaving,
they know they face severe punishment for crossing the
boarder without permission if they are sent back.
Simply going to China to look for food for survival makes
them political criminals under North Korea's legal system.
The refugees enter China in a desperate attempt to survive,
but now it is becoming harder to stay alive in China, too.
Our investigation reveals that any refugee arrested in China
and repatriated three times will be treated as a political
criminal and executed without trial.
Recently, we published in Japan a book containing the memos
written by one North Korean refugee. That refugee was
repatriated to North Korea and tortured to death. According
to the testimony received from many refugees, especially
severe treatment is reserved for those who have had any
contact with Korean NGO members or Christian NGO members.
This includes cruel torture or imprisonment. Therefore,
those defectors face great difficulty and have no choice but
to escape from China if they are to survive. They must
either sneak into a third country sharing a border with
China or dash into a foreign diplomatic establishment.
Ironically, as the Chinese government intensifies its
crackdown, more defectors feel cornered and choose to run
into foreign consulates or embassies, because it is their
last chance for survival. Seeking asylum in foreign
embassies or consulates is their desperate choice to protect
their lives and human rights, and it should not be
diminished as something termed mere "planned defections."
The official opinion of the Chinese government has already
collapsed. As the crackdown tightens, more refugees are
trying to run into foreign establishments. Making the
surrounding fences taller or adding to the number of
security guards is just a temporary solution. Such a
superficial solution will surely be met by even larger
incidents. As a result, China will have to deal with
humanitarian and human rights issues in the international
community, and will lose its national credibility. China
would see the Beijing Olympics in 2008 held under a cloud of
international accusations and an atmosphere of discomfort.
In addition, now that China has joined the WTO, if China's
awareness of human rights and democracy is internationally
questioned, then the national prestige of China could be
We hope that China will change its policy for dealing with
the North Korean refugees, which is increasingly attracting
international attention, and achieve a soft landing on this
If the countries involved in the North Korean refugee issue
repeat their diplomatic clashes each time a problem arises,
it could threaten the security of the whole northeast Asian
region. Then, it would no longer be merely a humanitarian
or human rights issue; it could jeopardize the peace and
security of all of east Asia. We definitely believe,
therefore, that we must initiate international teamwork as
soon as possible for dealing with the issue.
We must immediately halt the tragedy of the North Korean
refugees. Since China shows no intention of protecting the
North Korean refugees, we would very much like to urge the
countries involved to reach prompt agreement on setting up a
refugee camp for protecting them in a country neighboring
China. To do this, first, we suggest establishing
collaboration among South Korea, Japan, and the United
States to prompt their governments to take the initiative in
creating international teamwork. We of Life Funds for North
Korean Refugees suggest that 11 countries would be involved
in the project; they are China, the United States, South
Korea, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia,
Thailand, and Myanmar. Desirably, each of these countries
would actively commit itself to the project.
Second, we need to urge the Chinese government to grant
North Korean refugees the right to pass through China,
giving them access to the refugee camp in a neighboring
Third, in granting such access to the refugee camp, we must
urge China to grant UNHCR and related NGOs the access and
freedom of activities to survey the actual conditions and
accurately determine the number of refugees in China.
Fourth, we suggest that discussion be started among related
international organizations and involved countries and NGOs
to set up refugee camps in Mongolia and in Far East Russia
to accommodate the North Korean refugees.
Fifth, once the refugee camp project is secured financially,
politically, and legally, we will be able to actively engage
in the management of the refugee camp, in cooperation with
other NGOs, by drawing upon the know-how we have built up
during the past several years in our rescue activities.
In July, the Senate Foreign Operations Committee added $80
million to the amount requested by the administration for
the refugee assistance account, and added this language in
its report: "The Committee recommends the State Department
utilize increased funding provided in the Act to safeguard
the human rights and dignity of North Korean refugees and
asylum seekers, whether through the establishment of camps,
contributions to organizations or other means."
This means that the United States is officially ready to
start the rescue of North Korean refugees. In Japan, Diet
members have inaugurated the "Board of Democratic Party
members for North Korean refugees and humanitarian issues"
to establish a network with South Korean Diet members and
members of both houses of the US Congress. In addition,
eight NGO groups have submitted written commitments to
support the management of the refugee camp in Mongolia.
We hope that active international discussions will be held
at both congressional and NGO levels to solve the North
Korean refugee problem. We look forward to seeing the
opening of the refugee camp as soon as possible. Meanwhile,
we continue our activities to help and guide the refugees to
a safe zone.
We are ready to try any means to help as many refugees as
possible until our mission is no longer necessary.