245. 'Fearless' Chun Ki-won has saved more than 1,100 refugees - often by using controversial methods, including the 'Dark Web'
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  Name : SUN Date : 2019-06-14 오전 10:29:38

Thousands of North Korean defectors are living secretly in Britain and the US, claims daredevil ‘James Bond pastor’ famed for 007-style rescue missions

'Fearless' Chun Ki-won has saved more than 1,100 refugees - often by using controversial methods, including the 'Dark Web’

By Chris White
27 Feb 2019, 16:33

A DAREDEVIL dubbed the "James Bond pastor" for rescuing hundreds of North Korean defectors estimates around 4,000 of them are living secretly in Britain and the US.

Chun Ki-won's unconventional rescues include helping refugees to escape the brutal regime by jumping out of high-rise buildings and leading groups of absconders through Asia by foot, truck and trains.

△ Pastor Chun Ki-won is dubbed the 'Godfather of North Korean defectors'
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

△ Chun's defectors battle through a forest to escape the brutal regime
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

And like 007, the 61-year-old is dependent upon an array of technology - including flying drones on the borders - to save lives.

The pastor admits that his daredevil approach to helping defectors escape Kim Jong-un’s tyrannical rule is like something out of a James Bond film.

Chun has become so prolific and successful that he is known personally to the North Korean president - who has labelled him a cancer who should be eradicated.

He has also been called the “Godfather of North Korean Defectors”, although his nickname in America is “Asia’s Schindler”.

This is a reference to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers during World War 2 and was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's 1993 award-winning movie Schindler's List.

Chun is credited with helping more than 1,100 defectors flee North Korea for destinations across the globe, including the UK and US, over the past two decades.

One of his daredevil rescue missions involved a 'sex slave' having to climb through a window, many storeys high
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

According to the last census in 2011, there are close to 400 North Koreans living in England and Wales.

More recent figures published in The Conversation show that since 2003, more than 1,300 North Koreans have applied for asylum in the UK, and “544 have been granted asylum”.

Chun, however, estimates there are about 2,000 living in the UK, as some hide their true origins and go “underground”.

He said: “The problem started when people started learning that you can get an easier visa over there so people started flocking in to the UK. ‘And the government couldn’t verify North Korea from South Korea because many refugees went to South Korea first.

“So after that, even though official number is very low, it could be up to 2,000 ? no one really knows.”

In the US, the official population figure of North Korean defectors is now around 170, with them predominantly situated in Washington DC.

But Chun says that’s a lie and estimates that there are at least 2,000 illegal immigrants, who’ve fled the communist regime, with the main clusters in Washington, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

He said: I was the first to officially take defectors to the States.

“And there were many more before me. The US only takes the number from the North Koreans who come from China, but there are many who come from South Korea, Japan and even European countries.

“The official number is 200, but it’s nearer 2,000. They are illegal immigrants, the government has no idea who they are or where they are.”

Sex traffickers

The bulk of those he saves from North Korea are victims of sex trafficking.

The former hotel owner's rescue missions began when he was looking for business opportunities along the border of China and North Korea in the mid-1990s.

Upon seeing the plight of starving North Koreans, he joined a seminary and met many who were in hiding.

After becoming a pastor in 1999, at the age of 42, he set up the Durihana Church in Seoul, South Korea to rescue, rehouse and educate North Koreans.

Some live at the church, others study and pray there, but no one is ever turned down.

He says defectors can be overwhelmed by South Korea, which is over a century ahead of the culture they’re used to.

△ Inside the border between North and South Korea
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

Chun has helped hundreds of North Koreans to sneak over the border into South Korea
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

There are more than 50,000 North Koreans - 80 per cent of whom are women - trapped in Chinese border towns. Chun says he has helped more than two per cent of them so far.

Unsuspecting women desperate to escape from North Korea are lured across the border by traffickers.

Hooked by the promise of well-paid jobs working with computers, they’re then sold to China’s sex trade, where they’re forced to work on internet sex webchats and take off their clothes for customers.

The longer a punter stays online, the more money the company gets. Women can be locked up in a room 24 hours a day, for months, or even years, on end.

And Chun admits has to be devious to help save them.

With some, he’ll befriend them on the chatrooms of the “Dark Web” and gain their trust before rescuing them in elaborate schemes.

Or he’ll negotiate with their bosses - sex traffickers - to “buy” the girls by pretending to be a concerned family member.

“I’ve got no choice but to go onto the Dark Web and in the chatrooms and listen to their story.

“I pick the ones who are really desperate and really need help. I pretend that I’m their uncle or father and tell them I want to buy her,” he explains.

Sometimes he even gets tipped off by a victim's “sympathetic captors”. He’ll find out about them through trafficking contacts and plan their rescue.

△ The 61-year-old used to be a hotel owner, before he saw the plight of desperate North Koreans, and joined a seminary
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

“God's plan”

In the pastor's words, this is “extreme NGO work,” but he also believes it’s all part of God’s plan.

“Every day I receive faxes, calls and emails to people who want to be freed, I can’t be indifferent.

“Our mission is to reunite North Korea and South Korea using the gospel,” says Chun, speaking from his office at Durihana School, which he set up to “help teenagers from the North to learn and adjust to Korean society”.

He works alongside other missionaries across China and Korea.

Escapees often have to travel thousands of miles by foot, train and trucks through China, Laos and Thailand.

The dangers of his work increase every year, as escapees aren’t safe until they reach Thailand, which has no deal with North Korea about returning refugees, enabling them to seek asylum at the Korean Embassy.

△ One of the guards who patrols the border area between North and South Korea
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

Chun said that it has become more difficult for people to escape.

For most, the only way to be liberated is with the aid of people smugglers, who then sell them to Chinese sex traffickers.

He added: “The process is much harder because there are higher bars and wire fence along the border and North Korea is using CCTV cameras. If you are caught, you’ll be executed.

“However, North Korean guards need money and they will sell girls to Chinese men, it’s basically a human trafficking scheme.

“Most are women, who will then try to escape the traffickers and get their family out of North Korea afterwards. It’s nearly impossible odds.”

Life on the line

Chun’s work has faced more obstacles since 2002 when he was caught and imprisoned for nine months for leading a group of 12 refugees across the China-Mongolian border.

Ten were later executed, while US relatives intervened to save the remaining two Koreans.

Chinese authorities threatened Chun with the death penalty unless he revealed the real mastermind behind the operation.

He said: “The Chinese demanded to know who put me up to it; they kept asking the same questions over and over, and I said: 'I did this as God wanted me to do it'.”

Chun was released from prison after pleas from international human rights NGOs and petitions from US negotiators.

But, the pastor is now banned from the country, which makes his rescue operations even more daunting as he has to rely on contacts while he waits for groups of refugees at the Laos or Thai borders.

△ More than 50,000 North Koreans are believed to be trapped in Chinese border towns
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

Botched escape

Chun admits that only half of his operations succeed and in one case a woman plummeted to her death from the seventh floor of a high rise building during a botched escape plot.

It doesn’t deter him from continuing his work, however.

In another case, he found a girl online and got her to take a photo of the door and windows of the place where she was being held captive, so that he could work out her location.

The woman didn’t know where in China she was after being sold to sex traffickers, who’d imprisoned her in the same room 24/7 for 10 months where she was forced to talk to customers on sex webcams.

Chun then drew pictures detailing his plan to save her.

△ The pastor demonstrates one of his daredevil rescue attempts, when a captured sex slave had to climb through a window and walk along a balcony to safety
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

This involved the woman climbing out of her window onto the balcony where one rescuer would lower a rope to her, which she was to wrap around her wrist, before edging across to the next-door balcony, where someone would be waiting to take her away.

But with such high stakes, it’s inevitable that things can go wrong.

In 2009, Chun helped two American journalists - Euna Lee and and Laura Ling from a cable TV station in San Francisco - organise their trip to China where he introduced them to a contact who would act as a guide.

But they were arrested for illegally crossing the North Korean border - which they denied, alleging they were beaten and dragged over the border by North Korean guards.

The pair were sentenced to 12 years hard labour.

It was only through the diplomatic efforts of Bill Clinton, who paid a visit to then President Kim Jong-il, that they were eventually pardoned.

“James Bond”

Chun often guides groups using drone video to monitor border guard patrols, so that he can make sure they pass without detection.

As for references to James Bond, Chun admits he is “fearless”, adding: “Most people are struck by what I do, but I believe that God has prepared me for this job and I’m courageous.

“Even if I got arrested, I’d be really calm about it.

“I enjoy the adventure and technology involved, such as flying the drones on the borders, but the amount of girls we’re saving is getting less, as it’s getting harder.

“It used to be 20 to 30 a month, now it’s only four or five.”

His methods aren’t liked by the South Korean Government either - they see it as “ruining the bonding relationship,” he says - but they can’t arrest him for it and usually leave him alone.

△ Pictures taken by the pastor show how dangerous the journey to safety is, with refugees often having to travel hundreds of miles on foot
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com

Financial pressure

Apart from the risk of capture or imprisonment, Chun's main problem is finance.

He said it costs at least 1,500 (US$2,000) to move a person across just one border, plus flight costs and another 1,500 to brokers.

By the time they reach Korea, it has cost more than 3,800 ($5,000) per refugee.

As it’s not financially viable to transport just one person at a time, those rescued move in groups.

Churchgoers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, heard about his actions and the congregation voted to devote all their energies and monies into helping Chun.

Santa Fe Pastor Ryan Ellsworth said the City of Faith Christian Fellowship was looking for a worthy cause and decided it wanted to help North Koreans.

So, in May 2016, a new branch of “Durihana International” was launched in the US with Chun at the opening ceremony, along with some people who’d fled from North Korea.

In posters for the visit, the Church branded Chun “Asia’s Schindler”.

Chun said he was the “first to officially take defectors to the States”.

He estimates that he’s saved well over 1,100 refugees in 18 years and delivered them safely all around the world from Europe to North Asia and to America, which has traditionally had a tough stance on North Korean immigrants.

Chun said that while the official number of North Koreans who have defected to the US is said to be 200, “it’s nearer 2,000. They are illegal immigrants; the government has no idea who they are or where they are.”

An American church is helping to fund the pastor's attempts to save North Korean defectors
Credit: www.thisischriswhite.com