Rallies in D.C. to Protest Repatriation of North Korean Refugees

Protestors say repatriation violates international laws that protect political refugees, since North Korean authorities consider anyone who runs away as traitors and all returnees are subject to arres
( [email protected] ) Aug 21, 2005 06:59 AM EDT

Religious and humanitarian rights advocates and government officials will gather in Washington this weekend to protest the repatriation of North Korean defectors from China and pray for those suffering under Kim Jung Il's dictatorship.

The events begin at 2 p.m. Saturday with a rally in front of the Chinese embassy, and will continue with a prayer vigil for the North Korean people on Sunday evening at the Korean Central Presbyterian Church in Vienna, Virginia.

Both rallies take aim at China's forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees, an issue that has in recent months sparked a widespread boycott of the Chinese 2008 Olympics among hundreds of churches in South Korea and the United States.

According to a report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the Chinese government considers all refugees from North Korea to be economic migrants who are subject to forcible repatriation. There are an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 North Korean refugees in China.

Protestors say repatriation violates international laws that protect political refugees, since North Korean authorities consider anyone who runs away as traitors and all returnees are subject to arrest, imprisonment, torture, and even death.

"These people are political refugees that should be protected, not repatriated," said Sin U Nam, Vice President of the North Korean Freedom Coalition that is organizing Saturday's rally. "The Chinese government has been rounding them up and sending them back where they could die."

U Nam, who also runs the North Korean Genocide Exhibit, believes this weekend's protest and vigil will "help change what is happening there" by raising awareness about the issue.

"We want all Christians to rally up against the persecution, the concentration camps and the starvation. The more people know about this, the better chance we have for change," he said.

The North Korean government is widely known as the world's most oppressive regime, and human rights officials estimate 200,000 political prisoners are in North Korea's gulag system and about 400,000 prisoners have died in those prisons in the last three decades. Kim Jong Il's regime has also diverted foreign food aid to the military or black market, which contributed to the mass starvation of more than two million North Koreans since a famine began in 1995, according to reports.

In the past, churches have largely kept silent regarding North Korean human rights and instead gave funds meant to feed malnutritioned children. However, with recent reports detailing the automatic criminalization and persecution of Christians there, churches have stepped into the frontline of action and have "become more vocal than ever."

"The Christian community is now realizing what is happening, and they are getting involved," U Nam explained.

Accordingly, Sunday's prayer vigil is organized by the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, which has held similar prayer meetings in churches across the nation.

However, protestors say that's not enough.

"Nothing is enough until the mass persecution stops," said U Nam. "Tens of millions should know about this holocaust, "it's really a modern day holocaust."

In addition to raising awareness about the issue, U Nam says churches can help by refraining from sending money to North Korea and encouraging the U.S. government to put the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act into action.

"I tell a lot of churches to stop sending anything," said U Nam. "They think they're helping the North Korean people by sending money for medicine and food, but I know for a fact that none of these reach people.

"Why would millions die if all the aid goes to the people?" he said. "The dictator is still killing people and getting crazier every day."

Saturday's protest will feature speeches, prayers, singing and special guests. Organizers will also read aloud the names of North Korean refugees seized by the Chinese government and the humanitarian workers currently in Chinese jails for helping the refugees.

For more information on North Korean Human Rights, visit: www.nkfreedom.org.