US Senate Subcommittee Hearings
Congress Investigates North Korean Refugees
Offering To Help
On June 19, 2002, we received email notifying us that a US Senate Subcommittee would be holding a hearing on the plight of North Korean refugees, and that Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum in the US, would be submitting testimony encouraging the US to approve monetary support for establishing a North Korean refugee camp.
To prepare for this hearing, Ms. Scholte asked us to submit a letter of commitment expressing our intent to help the refugees once the camp is set up. Here is our letter of commitment, followed by her testimony.
Our Letter of Committment
June 20, 2002 |
Ms. Suzanne Scholte
Defense Forum Foundation
Dear Ms. Suzanne Scholte,
We, the Japanese NGO, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), acting to help North Korean refugees at the North Korea-China border, deeply appreciate your activity for appealing to the US Congress to set up a Refugee Camp for North Koreans. The involvement of you and the US Congress in solving the human rights problem of North Korean refugees is deeply appreciated. We of course are committed to providing the fullest possible support once the camp has been set up. For more than four years we have been engaged in the rescue of North Korean defectors and attempting the UNHCR to certify them as real refugees. The idea of the refugee camp for the North Koreans means a great step toward solution of the problem.
We understand that candidate locations for the camp include China, Mongolia, and Russia. Our own experience suggests that Mongolia would be good for this, because in 1999 we once proposed this idea to the UNHCR Office in Beijing and to Mr. D. GEREL, Counselor of the Mongolian Embassy in Tokyo. Both of these concerned bodies showed interest. However, we received no positive response from either of them at that time.
If the Mongolian government accepts the idea, there are still good disused abandoned military barracks and officers' apartment facilities in that country, which the Russian Army left following the withdrawal of the Soviet Armed Forces of Russia. Our impression was that there would be sufficient numbers for accommodating North Korean refugees. Expenses for the facilities for North Korean refugees will only involve partial repairs, as it will not be necessary to construct new buildings. In addition, Mongolia can expect an economic advantage from providing food, water and energy.
Furthermore, Mongolia, if that country agrees to accept North Korean refugees, will gain positive international attention for making this humanitarian decision and for respecting human rights.
Ms. Scholte, if you can take the initiative and pave the way to arranging the financing, we as a Japanese humanitarian group are quite willing to join the resulting program. We are ready to commit to help, every inch of the way, to bring a solution of the North Korean refugee problem, drawing upon our own several years of experience and know-how. For your reference, if we decide that we need extra help in the future, we will definitely be able to receive great help from Korean missionaries studying in Japan, who are willing to help those North Korean refugees.
In Japan, since the recent incident when the North Korean refugees dashed into the Japanese Consulate in Shenyang, we are witnessing a great peak of interest among Japanese citizens with respect to the North Korean refugee issue. Actually, we have been meeting with Diet members and journalists in efforts to help them expedite improvements in the situation of North Korean refugees. Again, we, the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, commit ourselves to providing full support of the plan for opening a refugee camp, and will actively engage in helping to maintain, manage, and support the camp once it has been opened. In addition, we will be appealing to the Japanese government and Japanese people to join us in our efforts.
I appreciate your efforts and expect a positive outcome.
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
Testimony Before The Subcommittee
Subcommittee on Immigration, Senate Judiciary Committee |
June 21, 2002
Testimony Submitted by Suzanne Scholte
President of the Defense Forum Foundation, the U.S. partner of the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (Seoul) and the Society to Help Returnees to North Korea (Tokyo), and Secretary of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony regarding the situation facing the North Korean refugees in China. I want to express my deep gratitude to Senators Ted Kennedy and Sam Brownback and others who are responding to the most under-reported human rights tragedy the world faces today. I will address the situation facing North Korean refugees and then, highlight three immediate priorities and three long-term priorities to address this situation while exposing the weaknesses in arguments being put forward by some individuals in various governments against the actions that should be taken.
Because of the famine in North Korea, North Koreans have fled their own country in droves seeking food. Because China will not allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to visit the North Korea/China border, the estimates vary widely as to the number of refugees with conservative estimates at 50,000 but some NGOs reporting the number as high as 300,000.
How does China treat these starving, malnourished, terrified men, women and children who flee to their country as a last desperate hope for survival? It puts a price on their heads, and it penalizes its own citizens if any one of them offers food or shelter while rewarding people for turning them in.
The North Koreans must hide in caves, in holes in the ground, in safe houses in utter terror. Some are constantly on the move going from town to town trying to stay ahead of the Chinese police. Orphan children scavenge in the streets begging for food and sleep on roofs and in alleys at night.
China knows that to return these defectors to North Korea is to guarantee their imprisonment, torture, and possible death, but it continues to repatriate them in violation of the international documents that it has signed. China calls them "economic migrants," but as Seung-yong Lee, of the humanitarian organization Good Friends, has stated "Their flight to China is their last resort for survival not a means to accumulate wealth. The simple crossing of the river makes them political offenders regardless of their initial motivation."
Because it is a crime in North Korea to leave the country without permission or to complain about the food situation, these North Koreans are automatically guilty of a crime against the state for their simple desire to survive.
According to field surveys conducted by the Citizens Alliance and Good Friends on these refugees
~~ over 50 percent of the women have been subjected to some form of human trafficking, sold as wives to Chinese farmers, sold as sex slaves to brothels, sexually exploited and subjected to hard labor;
~~ of the refugee children, 22% are orphans, 26% have parents suffering from serious disease, and 38% had single parents incapable of caring for them
It is a monstrous tragedy that those who seek to help these refugees must work in secret, must work in fear of being jailed for trying to feed the starving and give refuge to the orphan.
You have on the one hand a refugee population in desperate need of assistance and on the other hand a humanitarian community willing to provide that assistance at great personal sacrifice and risk. Yet, the policy of the government of China is to persecute both groups.
Now, some would say that we should keep quiet, that we should not speak out about this situation because it is forcing the government of China to increase its repression. That is simply not factually correct. The repatriations have been occurring for years. One group of seven North Korean refugees was actually granted refugee status by the UNHCR in December, 1999, yet China forcibly returned them to North Korea in January 2000.
I know that there are heroes, who must remain nameless, in the Chinese government and among the Chinese and North Korean border patrol who purposely look the other way to avoid having to imprison North Korean refugees, but this is the exception. The norm is repression on-going and systematic. It is not a new policy. It is the government of China's policy, and the situation is getting more and more desperate. Again and again, we hear the same cry from the North Korean refugees "We will kill ourselves if you make us go back to North Korea."
First, to respond to this human tragedy, we must call on the governments of the United States, Korea, and Japan to honor requests for all North Korean asylum seekers. You would think that this was an obvious solution, but you would be shocked and appalled to hear the horror stories of North Korean refugees like Soon Ok Lee and Chul Hwan Kang. Lee tried to defect in 1995, and Kang tried to defect in 1992, via the South Korean embassy, and both were turned away.
These individuals were two of only seven survivors of North Korea's political prisoner camps. Yet, when they tried to defect to South Korea, the South Korean embassy turned them away knowing that they would be executed if they were returned to North Korea.
Knowing that the one country that understands their language may not help them has led North Koreans to further desperation, forcing them to seek asylum in German, Spanish, Japanese, Canadian and American embassy and consulate offices.
Regarding the Kim Han Mee family's attempted defection to the Japanese consulate office in Shenyang last month, the outcry by the Japanese government and the Japanese people demanding their return saved their lives. This case was unprecedented because it was the first time the Chinese had North Korean refugees in their custody and allowed them to go to a third country.
Second, to respond to the immediate humanitarian crisis, the U.S. Congress needs to earmark funding specifically for a refugee camp for North Korean refugees. We need to unite the starving and desperate with those willing to feed and comfort them. I am submitting letters from organizations based in South Korea, Japan, Europe and the United States expressing a willingness to support such an effort and back the U.S. Congress for earmarking funding for a refugee camp.
A few excerpts from these letters
From Benjamin Yoon of the Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights based in Seoul "Your proposal to set up a North Korean refugee camp with the support of the US Congress casts a light of hope for all of us...You have our most heartfelt assurance and commitment that we will put all our efforts and render both our human and financial resources to the project."
From Kenkichi Nakadaira of Life Funds for the North Korean Refugees based in Tokyo "If you can take the initiative and pave the way to arranging the financing, we as a Japanese humanitarian group are quite willing to join the resulting program...We, the Life Fund for North Korean Refugees commit ourselves to providing full support of the plan for opening a refugee camp and will actively engage in helping to maintain, manage and support the camp once it is opened. In addition we will be appealing to the Japanese government and Japanese people to join us in our efforts."
From Sophie Delaunay of Doctors Without Borders based in Paris "Whenever a resettlement camp will be officially agreed upon for the North Koreans, Medecins Sans Frontiers will be ready to assess the needs for assistance and consider a relief program that would both help the needs of North Korean asylum seekers and MSF qualifications and humanitarian principles."
I am submitting six letters from well-respected humanitarian organizations that have been involved in helping the North Korean refugees for many years. Each letter endorses the refugee camp idea and each organization pledges support for the North Korean refugee camp. Because of the great stature of the individuals listed here and the respect held for each of these groups, each is capable of bringing in many other organizations.
Aegis Foundation from President Dr. Jae Nam (based in USA) Coalition for Human Rights of the Kidnapped and Defectors from North Korea, Pastor Lee Seo (based in Seoul) Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, Reverend Benjamin Yoon (based in Seoul) Korean Peninsula Peace Project, Pastor Douglas Shin (based in Los Angeles) Life Funds for the North Korean Refugees, Representative Kenkichi Nakadaira (based in Tokyo) Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors without Borders) Seoul representative Sophie Delaunay
A refugee camp is vitally needed to respond to the immediate humanitarian crisis. Some in government will oppose this because they want to maintain the status quo. They fear it will lead to a flood of refugees and the possible collapse of the North Korean regime. Each day the North Korean regime commits murder against its own citizens. Today, by extremely conservative estimates, 42 people will die in the North Korean political prisoner camps and another 391 people will die from starvation from a famine caused by government policies. Do we really want to maintain this status quo?
Third, we must demand that China stop all repatriations of North Korean refugees, and we must demand that China allow the UNHCR access to the country. It is in China's economic interest to comply with this request. China must choose between access to the Free World's markets or propping up an evil, corrupt, totalitarian hell.
If the United States government is not willing to use economic leverage to make China comply with the international treaties it has signed, then all free people in the world should call for an international boycott of every single product made in China.
Now, for long term solutions. Some in our government, some in Japan, Korea, and China fear a regime collapse. Instead, we should prepare for it. The North Korean regime cannot sustain itself. It has only been able to maintain power through the misuse of humanitarian aid from countries like ours who with deep concern over starving children, provide food that feeds their military and their elite.
First, we should end all aid to North Korea unless we are there to see it consumed. It is interesting to note that North Korea will not allow volunteers who speak Korean to serve as aid workers with the World Food Program. This condition speaks volumes about this regime's desire to control and divert humanitarian aid. It is also interesting to note that 100% of the North Korean refugees in China tell us that they never saw a single bit of our humanitarian aid. We have heard it from well-respected humanitarian organizations, we have heard it from every North Korean defector, whether a former Army Colonel or a former government worker the aid is being used to maintain Kim Jong-il's regime.
I support humanitarian aid, but it should not be provided unless we are allowed to see it consumed. Otherwise, we simply become a party to the subjugation and repression of the North Korean people.
Second, we should support and expand Radio Free Asia. And call for free elections in North Korea. North Koreans will not understand what this means. But utilizing and supporting Radio Free Asia, we should employ North Korean defectors to help with the existing RFA programs broadcasting into North Korea about the free world.
RFA has been tremendously successful in spreading the truth. We know that while defectors tell us they never saw any humanitarian aid, fifty percent said they listened to Radio Free Asia.
Third, we should continue to raise the human rights issues every time we talk about North Korea. Defectors will tell you that even the regime of Kim Jong-ill is not immune from the outcries of the international community about the repression of its own people.
I am deeply grateful for your allowing me to submit this testimony and the accompanying letters. Thank you for what you are doing to save the lives of the North Korean people.