191. N. Korean women recount escape as rescue group prepares o launch Santa Fe branch
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  Name : santafenewmexican Date : 2016-05-24 오전 6:10:52

 
Santa Fe church opens branch to help North Korean refugees. from durihana on Vimeo.

N. Korean women recount escape as rescue group prepares o launch Santa Fe branch

Posted: 12:28 am, Fri May 20, 2016.
By Cynthia Miller
The New Mexican

They decided to flee North Korea about four years ago because their families were starving, the two young women said. But the journey to a new life outside the oppressive nation snagged each into a cycle of human trafficking - in which they were traded among brokers and sold to Chinese men. Each time they escaped, they were captured by traffickers and sold again, always living with a greater fear - that they would be discovered by Chinese authorities and deported to their home country, where they likely would be killed.

Before they even crossed the Chinese border, the women said through a translator Thursday, they were caught and placed in concentration camps as punishment for trying to leave.

Their stories are similar, but the women - one in her mid-20s who asked to be called Hanna and another in her early 30s who used the name Naomi - didn’t meet until they arrived in the United States. They are among about 1,100 North Koreans refugees, most of them women and children, who were rescued in China by Durihana, a South Korean Christian mission founded by the Rev. Chun Ki-won, known as the father of the North Korean Underground Railroad.

The nonprofit is now launching a branch in Santa Fe that will coordinate with a network of missions in the U.S. that are helping about 200 North Korean defectors restart their lives. The Santa Fe branch will raise funds and build awareness of North Koreans’ plight - not only in their own country, but also in China, where they have no rights.

Chun will speak about the group’s work during a public event Saturday at The Light at Mission Viejo, off Richards Avenue.

Hanna and Naomi also may choose to tell their stories Saturday, but they are cautious about drawing public attention - they declined to give their real names or be photographed - because they fear the North Korean government will find out about them and retaliate against their families.

“That suffering they will go through is unimaginable,” said their translator, Jane Kim.

The women live freely in the U.S., even appearing in photos on Facebook and other social media sites. But they never reveal their home country online, Kim said.

Ryan Ellsworth, director of Durihana USA and pastor of the City of Faith Christian Fellowship, said Santa Fe has long been a sanctuary for refugees, and he believes that charitable spirit will extend to North Koreans in need, though he said there are no plans to move refugees here.

The local group’s main goal, Ellsworth said, is to spread awareness of the humanitarian crisis in North Korea. “We’re going to encourage people to pray, and we’re going to encourage people to act,” he said. This is a situation that all the world is staring at, and nobody wants to do anything about it.”

According to Human Rights Watch, North Korea under the rule of Kim Jong-Un is one of the most repressive nations in the world. A U.N. report released in 2014 documents “unspeakable atrocities” in the country, stemming from “policies established at the highest level of State.”

“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence,” the report says, calling for urgent action.

Ellsworth said the nation’s humanitarian crisis is worsening. He also decried the nation’s “iron grip” on information. “They have waged a war on information.”

Chun discovered the crisis in the mid-1990s, when he visited the border with North Korea to search for business opportunities. What he found instead was the body of a North Korean woman who had tried to flee. “He was so shocked to see that,” said translator Audrey Lee.

It was at the height of the famine in North Korea, and lack of food was prompting residents to flee despite the risks they faced.

Chun started Durihana in 1999 to help as many of the defectors as he could. A year later, he opened a school in Seoul, South Korea, to educate some of the children he had rescued. It now serves 49 students.

One of them is 19-year-old Selina Yu, who fled North Korea with her family when she was 14. Speaking excitedly in Korean during an interview Thursday, she described her bewilderment when her mother told her they would be heading to South Korea - all her life, she said, she had been told it was a poor and dreadful nation.

Through Lee, her translator, Yu said she grew up with no information at all about the outside world. “Now,” Lee said, “she has this freedom to speech, to have the things that she wants in her life. She has a lot of dreams.”

Selina Yu, a North Korean refugee who left North Korea when she was 14, speaks to translator Audrey Lee on Thursday. Yu is among about 1,100 North Koreans refugees, most of them women and children, who were rescued in China by Durihana. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Yu, who hopes to be a writer and a kindergarten teacher, said her visit to Santa Fe is her first trip since her escape from North Korea.

“She realized America is huge,” Lee said, adding that Yu had heard about the New Mexican desert but was surprised to also find trees and mountains here. “She loves the fresh air.”

Yu’s story is unique, Lee said, because her family found freedom together. She doesn’t have to hide.

For thousands of others, most of them women, the risks never end. Chun’s Underground Railroad is a series of train rides, bus rides and long treks through jungles and mountain terrain. “They’re just on the run,” Lee said. “You need to get out of China as soon as possible.”

In 2002, Chun was imprisoned in China for nine months after getting caught trying to help a dozen North Korean defectors cross the border with Mongolia. Ten of them were executed in North Korea, he said, calling it a personal “heartbreak,” but two were saved after an outcry by relatives in the United States.

Ryan Ellsworth, director of Durihana USA and pastor of the City of Faith Christian Fellowship, listens to the Rev. Chun Ki-won, known as the father of the North Korean Underground Railroad, speak Thursday about his work with refugees. Luis Sánchez Saturno/The New Mexican

Chun’s message to Santa Fe, Lee said, is that the U.S. has influence around the world, and “if we actually raise the awareness and our voices, it can be very effective, and we can save more people.”

Contact Cynthia Miller at 505-986-3095 or cmiller@sfnewmexican.com