Seoul Hope for the Refugees

While North Korea continues to persecute its people, while China continues to stymie protection of the refugees, and while the UNHCR and member states continue to pass the buck, the North Korean refugees continue to suffer. In short, they can’t survive in China, returning home is not an option, and it takes money, logistics and overwhelming luck — none of which they have — in order to escape to a third country that will grant them asylum.

A fortunate few of the refugees, however, are able to come into contact with a loose band of activists that have formed an “underground railroad.” Similar to its namesakes of early America and Nazi Europe, this Underground Railroad is composed of a covert network of safe houses, escape routes and bribed officials, and led by a group of fearless and selfless activists that put themselves in harm’s way to lead the refugees to a third country that will provide them asylum. While many of the activists are affiliated with various South Korean churches, many are also driven by their indomitable moral obligation to help people in need. Other members of the Underground Railroad are “moonlighters” from NGOs that were either banned from or have left North Korea and China.

The journey along the Underground Railroad is epic, and involves crossing thousands of kilometers of Chinese territory to Mongolia or Southeast Asia. Duplicity is rife, and the threat of failure is omnipresent and severe. And in the 52 years since the armistice ending the Korean War, only about 6,000 North Koreans have found freedom in the south.