People in the Film

Marine Buissonnière
Secretary General
Médecins Sans Frontières International (Doctors Without Borders)

“It’s unimaginable that the UNHCR staff has not gone to the border area in the past two to three years.”

Now the Secretary General for all of MSF/DWB, until 2003 Marine was the regional representative for MSF in Seoul. Impassioned and outraged, she sounds off in a thick French accent and wants to know where UNHCR is while the North Koreans in China are being “hunted and sent back to a fate that we all know is dramatic.”

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS)
Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission

“We’re going to look back in 10 years after North Korea opens up. We’re going to see millions of people dead. And we’re going say: ‘Why didn’t you act? Why didn’t you do something?’”

Brownback is a powerful advocate for human rights reform throughout the world, including North Korea, China and Sudan. He’s also the original sponsor and Senate champion of the recently enacted North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (HR 4011). Brownback cuts right to the heart of the crisis when he says “Here’s the real point of the issue: is their [the Chinese Government’s] view, are they refugees or economic migrants? And of that I’ve offered, and I’ve said to them, there’s a simple answer to this. You submit this to the UNHCR, and the UNHCR makes the determination. And you comply by the international agreement that you’ve signed to.”

Chun Ki-won
Underground Railroad Activist

The mysterious and secretive pastor who works the routes of the Underground Railroad with more success that any other single activist. He himself has traveled all the routes and has initiated new routes that have brought more than 400 North Korean refugees to safety (or approximately 10% of the total number of North Koreans that have made it to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953). A former businessman, Chun was initiated to the North Korean refugee crisis several year ago on a business trip to the Yanbian area of China near the North Korean border when he saw the dead body of a North Korean that had been shot in the back trying to cross the Tumen River.

Dr. Chung Byung-ho
Professor of Cultural Anthropology
Hanyang University, South Korea

“Once they cross the border that constitutes a very, very serious crime from the North Korean perspective. When the Chinese government sends them back to North Korea, they are severely punished. So, by the nature of North Korean law and the North Korean regime’s practice of punishing border crossers, they become political refugees.”

As an anthropology professor, Dr. Chung is an unbiased, respected expert on the effect of the food crisis upon North Koreans. With sincerity and credibility, Dr. Chung describes the famine in North Korea as one of the worst in modern history, even amongst socialist regimes, and that “At the age of seven, North Korean children and South Korean children have about a 12-centimeter height difference.” Dr. Chung is acutely aware of the crisis; he oversees the six-month re-education program for North Korean children that have made it to South Korea. Likewise, he is also painfully aware of its catastrophic potential: “If they [the refugees] flood borders — not only to South Korea, but to China and to Japan — it will really shake the stabilities, or the basis of East Asian peace.”

Kong Quan
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MoFA”)

“Under these conditions, we do not need to consult the UNHCR regarding this situation. They obviously are not refugees.” Kong Quan represents the official view of the Chinese government: that not one North Korean defector is a refugee, but that they’re all economic migrants that came to China to work.

Kim Sang-hun
Underground Railroad Activist

Possibly the most covert member of the Underground Railroad, Kim Sang-hun specializes in facilitating the escape of “high value” North Korean defectors that can provide evidence against the Kim Jong-il regime for a future International Criminal Court tribunal. A retired UN official, Mr. Kim makes only a cameo in SEOUL TRAIN due to the secrecy of his activities.

Ruud Lubbers
UN High Commissioner for Refugees

“For a number of years UNHCR has been making efforts to obtain access to them, but this has been denied.”

A hero of Dutch politics and appointee to his post overseeing the UNHCR, Lubbers appears annoyed and disinterested as he makes passing reference to the plight of North Koreans in China. Lubbers was forced to resign in February 2005 in a sexual harrassment scandal.

Moon Kook-han
Underground Railroad Activist

“Not a day goes by they aren’t on my mind. I think about them all the time. Especially these seven. No…I can’t forget them. I’m the one that sent them.”

Moon Kook-han chokes back the tears as he talks about the refugee group called the “MoFA Seven.” A one-man show, he specializes in making political statements as he leads his refugee groups out of China. In 2001, he rushed a family of seven into the UNHCR office in downtown Beijing. With the Han-mi family, he stormed the Japanese Consulate gates in Shenyang, China. And with the MoFA Seven, he thought he was playing by all the rules. On their fateful day, the MoFA Seven completed their asylum forms and took them to the headquarters of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing. Instead, the Chinese brutally arrested the MoFA Seven and sent them back to North Korea, where it is presumed some, if not all, have since died in concentration camps.

Tim Peters
Founder and Director, Helping Hands Korea
Underground Railroad Activist

“When you come face-to-face with the realities of what the refugees have to tell us, suddenly that two million dead or three million dead in North Korea starts to penetrate to your heart and your conscious, and you realize you have to do something.”

Gentle and soft-spoken, Tim Peters is the glue that holds much of the Underground Railroad together. The Michigan native is the moral compass of the effort, supporting the activities of the Underground Railroad with funding, organization and guidance. Peters has lived in South Korea off and on for more than 28 years, dedicating himself to the service of the North Koreans. He is the Founder and Director of Helping Hands Korea and the Ton-a-Month-Club, which provides more than one ton of food per month to the North Koreans in the remote northern reaches of the country. To date, he has far surpassed that goal, and is in fact 3 years ahead of plan.

Tarik Radwan
Immigration Attorney

“At what point does this institution and its leaders assume criminal liability? Because if it’s their job to protect the lives of others, and they don’t, at some point…the world community is going to say ‘It’s not just the Chinese who are liable, it’s not just they who should be brought before a tribunal, it’s the very people at the UNHCR.’”

Radwan doesn’t hold back when he speaks of the UNHCR’s apathy toward North Koreans. A passionate immigration attorney specializing in refugee issues, Radwan has dissected the agreement between UNHCR and China ad naseum. He has concluded that there are several legal measures available to UNHCR to force China’s compliance with international refugee law, but that UNHCR has chosen not to use them.

Ron Redmond
Chief, Media Relations and Public Information Service
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

“UNHCR is an intergovernmental organization, and we are tasked by governments to do this work. But if we don’t have the support of those governments, then it’s extremely difficult for us to do it.”

As UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond was the High Commissioner’s “sacrificial lamb” in SEOUL TRAIN. He attempts to explain UNHCR’s perceived apathy toward the growing crisis of North Korean refugees. He explains that without the support of UN member states UNHCR is rendered powerless, and calls into question the political will of member states, namely the US, to address the issue.

Suzanne Scholte
North Korea Freedom Coalition

“Some people believe that we should not put pressure on the Olympic Committee to change the venue of the Olympics because we can use the Beijing Olympics to raise the human rights abuses that China’s committing.”

Scholte is a true activist, and articulates a poignant rebuttal to one of the most common solutions offered today to the issue of how to apply pressure on the Chinese government. She continues, “But the Beijing Olympics are in 2008. And that means there’s a lot more North Koreans that are going to be killed, a lot more North Koreans are going to be beat to death on the border, a lot more North Koreans are going to be ending up in political prisoner camps because they fled to China.”

Dr. Norbert Vollertsen
Underground Railroad Activist

“When I accompanied Chun Ki-won for the first time to the North Korean Chinese border, I was wondering how this guy is still alive!”

Having worked on numerous Underground Railroad operations, Vollertsen solemnly describes the danger that not just refugees, but activists face. An outspoken, radical but completely dedicated activist for human rights in North Korea, the German medical doctor knows first hand the critical conditions under which the North Koreans live. Prior to becoming an activist, Vollertsen provided medical relief within North Korea, stating “Children were dying in front of my eyes.” Notwithstanding his controversial tactics, his efforts have nonetheless brought the plight of North Koreans to the world’s attention.