The North Korean refugee situation is not one to be taken lightly. While the American media predominantly focuses on the recent refugee crises in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the totalitarian regime of North Korea impedes on the human rights of North Korean refugees everyday and such injustices cannot be ignored.

10 Facts about North Korean Refugees

  1. The people who live in North Korea are governed by Kim Jong-un under a completely totalitarian regime. Totalitarianism as a form of government theoretically prohibits individual freedom and expression; all aspects of an individual’s life are subject to the government’s authority. As such, media access and information about life outside of North Korea is extremely restricted.
  2. Most North Korean refugees defect to either China or South Korea. Refugees must usually travel through China to reach South Korea, as the border between North and South Korea is extremely regulated.
  3. South Korea’s media usually does not publicize individual defections, but large groups of North Koreans who defect all at once, such as the group of thirteen restaurant workers who left North Korea in April 2016, are more likely to be reported.
  4. The government of South Korea offers citizenship to all North Korean refugees who legitimately try to claim refugee status. The people seeking refuge are extensively interviewed to filter out any North Korean spies. As of May 2016, around 29,000 North Korean refugees live in South Korea.
  5. South Korea also offers reorientation classes for refugees from NK. These courses teach refugees basic life and job skills that don’t apply in North Korea, such as how to withdraw money from an ATM or shop in a Western-style supermarket.
  6. If any refugees from NK manage to escape to China, most face the fear of Chinese government discovery and the forcible repatriating that follows. Despite a signatory on the United Nations convention on refugees stating that China is not obligated to repatriate people seeking refuge, China still cooperates with the North Korean government and will even pay Chinese citizens to turn in undocumented refugees.
  7. Once they arrive back in North Korea, the refugees generally face torture, harsh physical labor and internment in political prisoner camps. It is therefore important to make sure people who want to leave North Korea can leave without fear of repatriation and punishment for leaving their country of birth.
  8. Organizations like Liberty for North Korea use donations to provide rescue and rehabilitation for North Korean refugees without any direct cost to the refugees themselves. It costs about $3,000 to fully rehabilitate one refugee. So far they have rehabilitated 505 refugees.
  9. As of May 2016, over 200,000 North Korean refugees live secretly in China. Most of them live in fear of repatriation and simply want to move on to South Korea or another country that will offer legal protection to refugees. However, tightly restricted travel between China and other countries’ borders often prevents such an opportunity.
  10. Many refugees from NK suffer from a host of mental health problems, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, even after they leave North Korea.

The cooperation of the Chinese with North Korea’s government makes the Chinese government complicit in the refugee injustices. North Korean refugees need help, and they’re looking to the rest of the world for aid.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Liberty in North Korea

north korea
Media in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is tightly controlled. Television stations broadcast government-endorsed news and statements, documentaries affirming the god-like status of the Kim family and politically fueled dramas. Radio subscribers are treated daily to Kim Jong-Un’s schedule and criticism of policies that do not match the country’s own.

As with most technology, radio usage is restricted. Most South Korean broadcasts are jammed so that North Koreans on the receiving end hear little more than ‘jet plane noise.’ All legal radios in North Korea are tuned to specific stations. They are checked and registered with police.

It is radios of the illegal variety that are beginning what some are referring to as a ‘quiet revolution.’ Smuggled in from China or homemade, they access a variety of independent programming. Providing potential listeners with real-time news is the purpose of groups like Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and Radio Free Chosun.

One such group, Free North Korea Radio (FNKR,) was founded by Kim Seong Min. Once a North Korean soldier, Min tuned into a South Korean station “out of curiosity.” The program he listened to debunked myths surrounding Kim Jong Il, particularly regarding the place of the Great Leader’s birth. The more he listened, the more he doubted what he had been taught. Min eventually made his escape to the south.

FNKR, which is based in Seoul, now broadcasts three hours per day. Staffers, most North Korean defectors, report on the outside world. In an effort to protect their families, almost everyone but Min uses a pseudonym.

Radio stations like FNKR reroute the information paths into North Korea. For over half a century, the North Korean government has chosen and embellished its facts in a tactful manner.

Radio distribution has been spurred on by the black markets that have supported North Koreans since the famine of the 1990s. By engaging in private enterprises, these citizens undermine the state distribution system, and consequently break North Korean law. Even so, an estimated 80 percent of North Koreans are involved in the black market today. In 2010, research group InterMedia conducted a study  to see how much of the North had access to foreign media.

Radio remains the most effective means of communicating news to North Koreans. Curiosity, well-intentioned piracy and radios are breaking the government’s attempt at monopolizing the country’s media.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: ABC, BBC, The Guardian, InterMedia
Photo: The Guardian

Hack North Korea
From Aug. 2-3, 2014 the Human Rights Foundation will host a two-day hackathon in San Francisco to devise methods of delivering info to North Korea. The event entitled ‘Hack North Korea’ will utilize the expertise of Silicon Valley’s brightest to create solutions to break down the knowledge barriers of one of the world’s most closed societies.

Attendees will include various well known North Korean defectors who will give talks on current methodology for information distribution into the country, such as dropping CDs, DVDs, USB sticks, shortwave radios, and leaflets from balloons.

Following the presentations, participants will divide into teams and begin exploring the ways in which to effectively supply knowledge to North Korea’s 25 million inhabitants.

Safety is an important issue to consider when proposing schemes to dispense information in North Korea. The North Korean penal code considers listening to unauthorized foreign broadcasts and the possession of sectarian publications “crimes against the state.” These infractions can result in severe castigation such as hard labor, life prison sentences, and the death penalty.

The main goal of Hack North Korea is not to promote the access of classified data, but rather to encourage solutions for disseminating information and promoting freedom of knowledge to a region that is highly restricted from utilizing common communication portals such as the Internet.

According to The World Bank, North Korea has the lowest Internet usage in the world. The country’s leadership does permit Internet access to a few selected member of its regime. The total number of users is estimated to be in the hundreds.

Although ownership of a personal computer in North Korea is formally banned, close to 4 million computers have been distributed to a minority of its citizens. These individuals have gained the right to access a few closed-off intranets that are heavily monitored and utilize a government-controlled operating system, “Red Star.”

Additionally, the country has only one Internet café, which is located in the capital and is primarily used by foreigners.

HRF president Thor Halvorssen considers the efforts behind the Hackathon as an “information lifeline to ordinary North Koreans, who have no means to learn about the world beyond the lies of their government.”

A study by the research group, the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU,) revealed that nearly half of North Korea’s population of 25 million lives in extreme poverty. Yet, as the United Nations (UN) continues to promote access to information technology as a means to alleviating the world’s poor, the HRF’s hackathon may prove to be helpful solution to breaking the cycle of poverty in the region.

HRF remains hopeful that as more North Koreans gain access to information, they will be empowered to defy and conquer the oppressive nature of the current dictatorship and improve the lives of its citizens.

– Talia Langman

Sources: CNBC, Freedom House, PBS NewsHour, The Guardian, United Nations, US News
Photo: Boing Boing

north korean farmers
The pressure is on for North Korea to surpass previous years of famine and intolerably high death tolls, possibly nearing hundreds of thousands lives lost. The threat of famine imminent throughout the nation, Kim Jong Un proclaimed a prosperous farming season, claiming North Koreans will, “never have to tighten its belt again,” with the hopes of inspiring farmers to excel.

The question still lies in every mind, how can an isolated, autocratic state find success when they refuse aid from every inquiry that comes their way? Compared to last year, North Korea is expected to produce three million tons less grains, paving the way for a lower crop season overall.

North Korea, no matter how hidden and secretive they attempt to be, still releases information to the world, even though it may be altered. Kim believes that his country can provide for itself and be a successful self-sustainable farming example. In reality, farmers struggle to get past the memories of the death and hunger that rampaged through the country in the 1990s.

In that time, farming was made up of innovative farming technology that quickly lead to the fuel and equipment shortages that created long-term damage. The policies put in place at the time did not account for over usage, allowing farmers to abuse the system and ultimately plow themselves into the ground, hungry and poor.

There are some instances in North Korea that point to signs of smart farming and success, given the example of Rim Ok Hua, whose farm received special recognition from the late leader, Kim Jong Il. This acknowledgement has gifted Rim’s farm with access to the top tier materials to maintain a vast and growing farm. Rim is one of few farmers that do not worry about their own lives when the farming season comes, compared to poorer provinces where farmers dread the harvests.

Forced to do so by hand and alone in the fields or behind starving livestock such as oxen, smaller farmers struggle to not only maintain themselves, but to serve the country as well. One of the common issues a modern farmer faces is that the, “soil fertility in many areas was trashed by decades of overuse of chemical fertilizers, up to the late 1980s,” causing current crops to suffer.

Among these physical issues lie the issues that cannot be seen, only felt by the people. North Korea’s strict regime includes, “state-controlled distribution, top-down planning and a quota system that doesn’t fully encourage innovation and individual effort. All these factors make North Korea’s agricultural sector a very fragile ecosystem,” forcing farmers to quietly suffer economically as well. With so many devices to control the farms, workers see little revenue and whatever they make immediately goes back to the state. This ultimately creates a cycle of poverty within the workforce, with the farm having barely enough to get by for the rest of the year.

Not all hope is lost though. Since the 90’s disaster that left so many suffering, there have been noticeable improvements that will hopefully allow for a more stable farming future. The total crop production is expected to rise five percent from 2013 to 2014, equating to about six million tons according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Programme.

North Korean farmers enter this farming season with a small sense of hope that the crops will yield the product necessary to survive, otherwise they may all be looking at a dim revisiting to the famine that threatened them years ago.

– Elena Lopez

Sources: Big Story, The Diplomat, Global Meat News
Photo: Telegraph

korean human rights
The United Nations will be setting up a new office in South Korea to investigate North Korean human rights violations.

Claiming the South to be an important location for human rights activism, many influential South Korean human rights leaders have voiced their support for the move, including Tae-kyung of the governing Saenuri Party.

Tae-Kyung said the move  is inevitable and voiced the importance of the country’s cooperation with the U.N.

North Korean citizens are facing an oppressive governmental regime under their supreme leader, Kim Jong-Un. While the country’s constitution includes human rights protection, Kim Jong-Un’s regime has continuously banned, among others, political opposition, free media and religious freedom: all pillars of basic human rights. More grievous, the death penalty and prison camps are punishment for basic “crimes against the state” acts.

Many of these offenses are non-violent acts, such as stealing plate glass from a hanging photo of Kim Jong-Un. Once subjected to these camps, the prisoners are provided little to no medical care and face severe food shortages, torture and execution.

Between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are being held captive in these camps today.

Michael Kirby, the former Australian high court justice, demanded that North Korean leaders be tried in international court for their wrongdoings.

Kirby claimed that North Korean citizens may be the world’s most victimized population. In response, the U.N. has begun to act in accordance: Kim Jong-Un was sent a copy of his report indicating his severe crimes committed in order to ensure due process.

Jong-Un has yet to respond.

The U.N.’s new South Korean office, which is to be located in Seoul, is hoping to improve the efficacy of its investigations toward North Korean human rights violations. The U.N. believes its proximity may even help to limit the frequency and intensity of the crimes.

An important step toward ending North Korea’s crimes, South Korea’s role in the process to alleviate human rights grievances is a monumental step forward.

– Nick Magnanti

Sources: Business Standard, The Guardian, HRW, The Wall Street Journal
Photo: The Sydney Morning Herald

North Korea, a state that has a notorious reputation for its secretive, alarming and militaristic demeanor, is at it again. After momentarily stepping down after having alarmed the international community with threats of nuclear testing in February 2013, the regime has once again avowed its intent to initiate an onslaught of nuclear testing despite ongoing suspicion that the state is erecting a nuclear arsenal.

According to a local North Korean newspaper, the state is simply taking protective measures against potential threats to its independence waged by the U.S. and neighboring South Korea. North Korea‘s decision to revitalize its nuclear testing programs is another method in which the state has demonstrated its military competence in order to establish itself as a global militaristic threat and power.

This wager comes fresh off of the United Nations‘ sanctions against North Korea for launching a set of short-range missiles in March, eerily chosen to occur on the fourth anniversary of the sinking of a South Korean ship. According to the Security Council, the regime’s decision to launch the short-range missiles violated significant UN agreements. According to the South Korean defense ministry’s spokesperson, Kim Min-seok, “This missile is capable of hitting not only most of Japan but also Russia and China.” Therefore, the missiles also pose a grave threat towards the well-being of residents in neighboring states — a threat that has not been taken lightly.

Despite North Korea’s recalcitrance, South Korea’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, issued a message to the state warning that the sheer economic cost of maintaining an effective nuclear testing program may in fact endanger the longevity of the state. While the economic cost of nuclear-building is in itself an obstacle for North Korea, Yun also avows that South Korea and its alliances in the Security Council will further aggravate the regime’s ability to conduct nuclear testing. For instance, Yun affirmed that “South Korea, together with its partners in the Security Council, will make the cost of having these nuclear weapons very very high, very very heavy, so that could backfire to the regime — the survival of the regime.”

Furthermore, the foreign minister threatened that if North Korea continues to defy present and future sanctions, the regime would have to face substantial retribution from the UN. Therefore, not only will the regime’s nuclear testing program come as a direct economic threat to its government and people, it is also fraught with the potential to break the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty — an international agreement that strives to maintain nuclear peace. It is especially alarming that North Korea has already withdrawn from this crucial peace-keeping treaty, indicating its resistance to upholding its once-alleged commitment to the diplomatic use of nuclear technology.

However, Yun’s intentions are not only aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear testing wagers, but also to facilitate the reunification of Korea,  a process which the foreign minister recognizes as arduous and delicate. The notion here is that the reunification of North and South Korea will help stabilize Asia and engender a long unseen sense of trust among the Asian nations. It is presumed that global peace is unattainable without first having attained global trust.

Furthermore, the foreign minister elaborates: “The geopolitical plate of the region is going through what I would call tectonic shifts. We are witnessing a rising China, a resurgent Japan, an assertive Russia and an anachronistic North Korea which is simultaneously pursuing nuclear weapons and economic development.” Therefore, in order for any cohesion to be established among these changing nations, the development of trust is imperative.

– Phoebe Pradhan

Sources: ABC News, BBC, The Guardian
Photo: Flickr

Cut off from much of the world, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, is a mystery to most people. The DPRK constantly provokes its southern counterpart with missile tests and hosts odd guests like Dennis Rodman. If you only got your information from the mainstream media, you probably perceive the nation to be an uncontrollable enemy of the United States and the Western world.

Much of the reason why we know very little about this country is because the DPRK government purposely isolates itself and its people. Any political expression is prohibited, unless you are supporting the Kim family establishment. For those looking to get the inside scoop on the DPRK, here are five websites to help you become more informed: This trusted news site provides independent news and intelligence information focused on North Korea. From politics and military to social and culture, NKnews provides a wide array of news and prides itself on being impartial. This company has taken a strong stance against the North Korean regime. Dailynk provides information of widespread human rights and other violations by the government. In hopes to free the people, the publication works to defend human rights, supports democratization and a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula.

The Korea Herald: This publication is South Korea’s leader in English-language news and boasts over 1 million users. Its National section also includes news on North Korea. News topics include military activity and political tensions between the two neighbors.

The New York Times: The Times is a world-renowned news agency so it is not surprising that they have an extensive archive of news on North Korea. Their 4,612 articles about North Korea covers human rights, international relations, military activity and more. They also have a “Chronology of Coverage” that has updated several times a week since the start of the year.

Reddit, North Korea News: Although not a news site, Reddit’s North Korea News page is probably the largest aggregator of North Korean news articles on the web. People create threads with news articles from all across the internet. Article sources include Bloomberg, The Times, Dailynk, and other international publications. It is a great way to stay updated on anything related to North Korea.

We hope you will visit these websites and stay informed on North Korea. The best way to fight against any misconceptions about a people is to learn about them, and these websites should provide you with some great information!

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: New York Times, Reddit, The Korea Herald, DailyNK, NK News
Photo: North Korea Herald

North Korea and the United Nations go head to head on matters of human rights. In a resolution passed on March 28, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva condemned North Korea for “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations, including crimes against humanity, that continue to be committed in the country.”

The resolution came shortly following a Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry conducted earlier in the month, and received acceptance by 30 nations, against six opposing and 11 abstaining.

Many of the human rights violations allegedly occurring in North Korea are unparalleled in a world modernized by the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights. A great number of people are detained in prison camps for crimes they did not commit. Their guilt, it seems, is declared by association with family members or close friends of those who allegedly committed political crimes. The Commission report provided evidence for circumstances of rape, murder and torture within the prison labor camps.

North Korean officials did not appreciate the Commission and resolution results. So Se Pyong, North Korea’s UN envoy, claimed the UN Human Rights Council had politically confronted North Korea, putting the nation on the defensive. When UN Human Rights investigators asserted North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un be tried for crimes devastatingly akin to those committed under Nazi rule, the country’s ambassador told the Council to “mind your own business.”

Despite the horrendous situation the investigative Commission has shown, many activists are pleased that the results have led to such strong support for the UN resolution.  Rather than stopping at investigations of nuclear proliferation and weapons development, the United Nations will now be putting Security Council and General Assembly staff to work on bringing justice to North Korea.

At this point, some world powers are wary of the extent that can be done regarding the issue. At most, North Korea could be taken to the International Criminal Court by UNSC, yet China and Russia, both veto powers, voted against the March resolution. However, an increase in investigation could possibly turn the tide. Human rights may not yet be completely universal, but for now the world is making progress.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Reuters
Photo: Yahoo

In a bid to better relations with its southward neighbor, the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea has agreed to allow family reunions with The Republic of Korea for those separated during the Korean War. Initially proposed by President Park Geun-hye early in 2014, the reunion was promptly rejected by North Korea.

However, a news conference from the North Koreans communicated the acceptance of the proposal under the guise of improving relations between the two countries. Between 1985 and 2010, over 22,000 individuals have been reunited with their families as organized by both governments on the peninsula, reports The New York Times.

This development comes as a result of South Korea’s prompt to its northern neighbor to prove their desire to reconcile citing a letter from North Korea which relayed the message of “reconciliation and unity” with South Korea. The letter comes from the National Defense Commission and more directly, Kim Jong-un himself. “The DPRK [North Korea] has already unilaterally opted for halting all acts of getting on the nerves of South Korea and slandering it,” reports the BBC.

However, South Korea and its military ally, the United States, remain wary of either proposal. Previous military provocations despite periodic peace concessions from North Korea keep the two allied nations skeptic. A North Korean disarmament of nuclear arms remains to be realized and this new development may just be another power play from the North.

Furthermore, “Foal Eagle” maneuvers, annual military drills between South Korea and the U.S., are often met with aggression from North Korea. In 2013, North Korea threatened both nations with pre-emptive nuclear strikes, viewing the military collaboration as acts of aggression against the People’s Republic.

“Foal Eagle” will consist of around 10,000 soldiers from both South Korea and the U.S. and is set to begin in February.

In its open letter, North Korea has asked to stop the military drills, to which the U.S. has responded with a clear no—the drills will continue as planned.

Whether or not North Korea is serious in its calls for reconciliation remains to be seen, as will most likely become clear as the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises begin.

Miles Abadilla

Sources: BBC, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Borgen

Despite the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea’s penchant for holding Americans hostage and despising the United States on principle, the country has nonetheless reached out to a Stanford University-led research team to help solve its mounting tuberculosis (TB) crisis.

North Korean doctors first approached Stanford Medical School and California-based tuberculosis experts in 2008. Since that time, the North Korean government has invited members from the Stanford Medical School to address the state of TB in the country, the worst in the world outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Tuberculosis affected 8.6 million people in 2012 and claimed 1.3 million lives. While it is largely eradicated in industrialized societies, the respiratory disease still affects developing countries located in Southeast Asia, Africa and the Western Pacific.

North Korea’s problems with TB arose in the 1990’s, when the country was wracked with floods, droughts and ultimately wide-spread famine after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1990. Without aid from their former Communist ally, widespread malnutrition overwhelmed the country’s inhabitants, resulting in upwards of 2.5 million starvation related deaths.

Improper nutrition coupled with few medical supplies led to a resurgence of TB in the country. In 1998, the Ministry of Public Health began implementing Directly Observed Treatment Short (DOTS) course, a repetitive and now defunct method of TB treatment.

Unlike other regions that evolved their treatment methods (like sub-Saharan Africa,) North Korea continued use of DOTS resulted in Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR TB,) particularly virulent strains of the disease that do not respond to basic antibiotic therapy.

Although North Korea does not keep drug-resistance records, a report by Eugene Bell, an NGO specializing in patient relapse, revealed large numbers of TB relapse in North Korea, signifying particularly high levels of MDR TB.

“We had anecdotal information from North Korean doctors, who were right on this one. They weren’t able to diagnose drug resistance, but they could see what happens when they treated people with drugs and they came back,” says K.J. Seung, a Eugene Bell doctor and author of the MDR TB report in the Public Library of Science. “Now we have original scientific data that clearly documents drug resistance.”

The notoriously xenophobic regime’s plea for help has resulted in the 2013 installation of North Korea’s first diagnostic laboratory to test drug-resistant MDR TB. In collaboration with the TB Consortium and the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit working to strengthen global security, the team is dedicated to improving North Korea’s treatment facilities and teaching North Korean doctors modern methods of controlling the disease.

The invitees must remain apolitical and are constantly monitored by minders, government-appointed tour guides that ‘mind’ what one sees and does in the hosting country. Despite these constrictions, researchers have continued their efforts to bolster MDR TB resistance efforts, noting the health of North Korea and the world depends on their efforts.

Emily Bajet

Sources: Global Post DDN News, Stanford, Stanford, Stanford Medical School, North Korea Now, Mother Board, World Health Organization
Photo: Vice