North Korean refugees are escapees from a nation akin to the world's largest prison. This week, the New York Times reported that the poor are staying poor in North Korea, despite recent economic developments, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to leave the country.
Think about this for a minute. Kim Jong Un is pampering his family friends while the rest of the country languishes in poverty. And to make things worse, he has closed the door to food and medical help that North Koreans sought as a last-ditch measure.
This means that there are less and less alternatives for most North Koreans to find food.
Many experts say that the economic and cultural shifts are only meant for the North Korean elite. They say that the increase in pop culture and luxury goods are gifts to the politically loyal to make them happy as the regime makes it’s third hereditary shift of power.
Economic reform in North Korea is only for the elite because the whole country is built for the elite.
This harkens back to the days of the Great Famine of the 1990s when Kim Jong Il would throw lavish parties catered by foreign chefs. He would fly in professional wrestlers to entertain him and his friends while about 2 million people died of starvation.
Many North Korean refugees we have helped witnessed this disparity first-hand. One family reported to us that a man in their village was so delirious from hunger that he pushed his child into a fire and ate her only to realize afterward what he had done. This happened around 2005, when the famine was supposedly over.
The New York Times article mentions that North Koreans are still being found dead along the roadside in the country. Starvation is still a present reality and commoners still have to forage to make ends meet.
As we pray this week for North Korean refugees and the for the North Korean people, let us not be discouraged. It can seem the regime is an immovable mountain, one that will oppress its people forever. But we have hope.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” - Matthew 5:3