Liberty in North Korea

image via Liberty in North Korea

image via Liberty in North Korea

“The Chinese police barged into the room and handcuffed all of us… We were returned to North Korea…My interrogator wanted me to confess to trying to defect to South Korea. I begged her to understand my situation but instead she grabbed my head and slammed it against a nail in the wall. I remember thinking as she took a fistful of my hair, ‘Is this my fate?’’’ This is how Jo Eun describes her experience after being caught in China on her fourth escape attempt. Jo’s story, however, has a happy ending because of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a non profit organization, that smuggled her to safety in South Korea. But not everyone’s story ends well.


For the past 73 years North Korea has existed as one of the most isolated countries in the world with its totalitarian government. Harsh living environments, and the lack of economic opportunity has forced many North Koreans to make a difficult decision; stay in North Korea or defect. The humanitarian crisis in North Korea needs to be addressed because thousands of lives are being lost, while multiple countries are helping the regime, and there isn’t enough work being done by governments to help North Korean citizens. 


North Korea is a totalitarian government, meaning that the government has full control of the country, and cannot be opposed. Having recognized this reality, LiNK seeks to help people escape this oppressive regime. The difficulty is in reaching these populations, because the country is so isolated and conditions are harsh. As the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un has set up laws that are outrageous and limit what the North Korean people can do. An example of this is that if a North Korean is caught selling foreign media like music and movies, their punishment is execution. Anyone that is found viewing foreign media will be sent to a prison camp along with their family. North Korea brainwashes its citizens to be completely loyal to the regime. Children are taught to report on neighbors and family members, otherwise they are being disloyal to the ‘great leader’. Millions of North Koreans died during the famine from 1994-1998, and its effects still linger across the country. Even while starving, the North Korean people were forced to be grateful to the Kim family. In order to still reach their goal, despite this harsh reality, LiNK is sending in rescue teams to bring the North Koreans to freedom. Along with providing resources, they also provide cell phones so that they can communicate with the defectors. 


LiNK’s mission doesn’t stop with leading defectors out of North Korea because of the country’s neighbors returning defectors. North Korea is located in East Asia, on the northern part of the Korean peninsula, and borders Russia and China. If a North Korean defector is caught in China, they will be sent back to be executed or be placed in a concentration camp for the rest of their lives. Many North Korean women are also tricked into being trafficked in China by brokers who claim they will bring them to freedom. In reality, these women are bought and sold on a black market. An estimated 60% of female North Korean refugees in China are trafficked. They can’t contact anyone because they will be sent back to North Korea where  they will face instant death. LiNK is trying to prevent this from happening by reaching the defectors before the Chinese and Russian officials. Joy Kim, for example, recalls, “For three days, the broker paraded me around villages in northern China and crowds of men gathered to bid on me. The broker finally found a man who was willing to pay enough for me. I was sold for $3,000.” She is only one of the defectors that LiNK helped escape from China. The situation is similar in North Korea’s neighbor, Russia. The country runs logging camps where men are forced to work from sunrise to sunset. They can’t escape, and they do, their families will be punished in prison camps. LiNK is advocating for the voiceless North Koreans in Russia so that the Russian government stops turning a blind eye to these camps within the country.


With China and Russia supporting North Korea, and little being done by other countries to help, LiNK is working in its role as a nonprofit to help. LiNK has built up a complex system to help North Koreans out of the hands of their regime. While other groups focus on the politics of North Korea, LiNK is focused on the people. Their slogan is, “people over politics.” So far they have helped 1,310 defectors out of the country using their 3,000 mile secret rescue route.The secret rescue routes start in Northern China and end once a North Korean refugee reaches Southeast Asia and is processed to safely travel to South Korea or the United States.They continue to work on fundraising money to help additional defectors find their way to safety Not only is LiNK helping North Koreans out of North Korea, but they are also reuniting North Korean families that have been separated. While Liberty in North Korea continues to work towards their goal of seeing, “The day every man, woman, and child in North Korea can live free and full lives,” they are only as strong as their members. 


The people of North Korea need support from all world governments to help them reach freedom. In addition, individuals can also step up to address this humanitarian crisis. Until then, Liberty in North Korea will continue doing the essential work it does to help the North Korean people. That’s why it’s so important for individuals to support their work by donating, fundraising, spreading the word, requesting a speaker, or even starting a rescue team. Donors have the power to change the narrative surrounding North Korea.