An estimated 200,000+ North Korean defectors have escaped the poverty and oppression of their government, hoping to reach safety in South Korea. To do so, these stateless people must undertake hazardous treks through China and other countries. Many never make it across miles of Gobi desert, mountains or similarly treacherous terrain for even a chance at diplomatic immunity.
An estimated 70 percent are women and children vulnerable to opportunists, most forced into human trafficking, slavery and other crimes. If caught by Chinese authorities, these refugees have no claim to diplomatic asylum. They are deported immediately to North Korea, where they often face torture or imprisonment.
Despite all this, the world community has done little to provide these refugees resettlement, which is why we are writing to you today. We need a strong push for diplomatic and humanitarian action. We hope you’ll contribute to our efforts and provide a powerful one!
In October 2015 we collaborated with a number of Twin Cities universities and colleges, non-profits, and influential U.S. and South Korean political and social figures to be a part of a symposium addressing these important issues. We produced a powerful program that spread awareness and understanding of the human rights issues of North Korean refugees and sparked an effort to establish long overdue solutions.
These engaged leaders from both the US and Korea came together for a captivating and catalyzing effort to mobilize behind this cause. The symposium was hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
A number of North Korean refugees were among the remarkable group of Koreans who had agreed to come and share their stories! Additionally, subject matter experts from academic, human rights, diplomacy, media social services, faith organizations, and the arts joined them to inform us about the facts and current status of this complex international issue. Together they illuminated the realities of refugees' lives in China, giving us a vivid glimpse into the desperation people face when they have no country and no legal rights.
From Hyon Kim, Founder:
With your help, we can engage community partners in a dialogue that goes beyond this symposium and transform into meaningful outcomes in our communities. The result will be a way to provide desperately-needed support of North Korean refugees.
I loved having the opportunity to share my story with this community, and appreciated all participation in our October 19 symposium, where we explored the role of community partners in depth, as together we create a workable structure that can follow up support to North Korean refugees.
Symposium 2015 video by Director Sang-Hoon Lee
News coverage of the Symposium by News Magazine Chicago
2015 Symposium Participants
Director Sang-Hoon Lee: Director Lee is a nationally recognized Production Designer and Film Director of numerous award winning TV shows and movies across the Republic of Korea. He is the creator of the popular Korean television program “On My Way to Meet You”, a panel show where North Korean refugees tell their heartbreaking stories to a panel of South Korean celebrities.
Chang-Soo Kim: An expert on Korean policy from WWII to the present, Mr. Kim serves on the editorial board for the Korea National Strategy Institute (KNSI) is an independent, nonprofit domestic and foreign relations policy think tank Korea's, seeking to accomplish reconciliation and reunification between South and North Korea.
Professor Jin-ho Kim: Professor Kim is the president of the YaenInBang Professional Theater Troupe and is well-known in the theater drama scene for his contributions in the development and recognition of theater’s significance in the history, development and promotion of Korean culture.
Representative Keith Ellison: Representative Ellison is an elected member of the United States House of Representatives representing Minnesota’s fifth district, the most culturally diverse district in the state. His legislative philosophy is one of "generosity and inclusiveness” and he consistently advocates for civil and human rights.
Jack Rendler: Mr. Rendler is the North Korea Country Specialist for Amnesty International, the Chairman of the Board for World Without Genocide and has served as the Executive Director for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.
Dean Eric Schwartz: Dean Schwartz is the dean of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/St. Paul. In addition, he also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration with the U.S. State Department.
Praise Ju (Joo Yang): A North Korean defector named Joo Yang recently participated in an AMA on Reddit, and her story of escaping the totalitarian rule of the country is completely stunning. Joo Yang defected from the country in 2010 after her parents went to South Korea first. She now helps to bridge the gap between North and South Koreans on the popular television program “Now on My Way to Meet You.”
Heejung Jang: Is the lead writer for "Now on My Way to Meet You." She is a writer for a new production in the Broadcasting Industry, and has written other successful TV shows in South Korea. Since 2011, she has been an entertainment lecturer for KBS (Korea Broadcasting System), which is a broadcasting academy, and talent development center.
Sandy Pappas was first elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives where she served three terms. In 1990, she was elected to the Minnesota State Senate, where she continues to serve, currently as President of the Senate.Throughout her legislative career, Senator Pappas has been a fervent and long-standing advocate for human rights.