As an organization at work in aiding North Korean refugees who escape out of the Hermit Kingdom, Crossing Borders is careful to keep up-to-date on the news coming out of the country. Some of the information coming out of North Korea this year has been heartening. A shorter hemline signals a country that is beginning to change with the times. A first lady is making the regime seem more people-friendly. All of these things are great. Recently North Korean media released text of a speech Kim Jong Un made to the Workers’ Party on July 26, which called for reforms to the country’s economic system. In the speech, Kim stated that the party would focus on “developing the economy and improving livelihoods, so that the Korean people lead happy and civilized lives.” Even better.
But if nation would really like to show its strength, it must welcome North Korean refugees back into the country without the risk of punishment.
In spending time with North Korean refugees along the border and in South Korea, it is obvious to many of our field workers and staff that they miss their families back home. Because North Korea maintains a stranglehold on all forms of communication, it is very difficult for families to communicate and virtually impossible for them to see each other.
This is the agonizing decision that all North Korean refugees who fled their country have made. One family in this position comes to mind.
Our staff met the "Lee" family in a restaurant in Northeast China a few years ago. They were upstanding members of the Workers’ Party and, according to them, they had never starved because of their class standing and they had never committed a crime. This was until they couldn’t find food around 2007. The patriarch of this family of four had to make the tough choice to go into the illegal money transfer business.
Within months he was caught and had a few hours to decide what to do. He fled with his wife and his teenage daughter to China. His son, who was in elementary school, was left with relatives. They feared he would slow the family’s escape. When the family met with our staff for dinner, they could hardly focus on the meal as they told their story. All they could talk about was their son who was trapped in North Korea.
As a response, Crossing Borders helped send money into North Korea to get their son out of the country.
What do Kim Jong Un and the Democratic People's Republic leaders fear most about allowing North Korean refugees back into their country? Information. With an inflow of people who have seen the prosperity of the outside world, North Korea is afraid that their people might grumble for change and the ruling elite might lose power.
But change is already afoot. DVDs from the outside world are secret, but commonplace. People get news regularly from foreign news outlets beaming short wave radio signals into the country. Illegal cell phones connected to the Chinese networks are available to some through the black market.
What is North Korea trying to shield its people from? The cat is out of the bag.
For people to live in happiness they must be given the opportunity to see their families. New economic reforms will undoubtedly open the country up even more. There is no risk in slowly allowing North Korean refugees back to help rebuild the country that they love. This will help North Koreans live, as Kim Jong Un states, "happy and civilized lives."