In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

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In the News – Disabled N. Korean Defector Finds Hope in Seoul

For North Korean refugees, the journey to freedom can be physically grueling. Many swim across a river into China and then travel undercover, avoiding authorities before they reach Southeast Asia and head to South Korea.  Imagine making the trip with only one foot and one hand.

Every week, Ji Seong-ho holds a silent demonstration against North Korea. He is one of the 23,000 defectors in South Korea who have fled the repressive Pyongyang government.

Ji’s journey south was more challenging than most. During the famine of the mid-1990s, when Ji was 14, he suffered a terrible accident.

“I was helping my parents make a living by stealing coal off trains and selling it in the market. I got dizzy once and I ended up falling off a moving train. It ran me over,” Ji explains.

He lost his left hand and foot.

Eventually, Ji crossed into China to find food. But on the way back, he was caught by North Korean guards.

“The police severely beat me for a week, maybe more than other escapees. They told me that because I am disabled I brought shame to North Korea and that someone with only one leg should stay home,” Ji recalls. “That is when I lost my trust in the North Korean government.”

In 2006, Ji escaped again and made it to South Korea, where he was given a prosthetic foot and hand.

Many refugees arrive with traumatic injuries that leave them emotionally impaired. Kion Won-hyoung is a psychologist at a government resettlement facility for defectors.

“Because of their experience, many refugees are afraid of even the security guards at the facility,” explains Kion. “They have nightmares about being tortured in North Korea, or being chased by animals.”

Ji Seong-ho is now a law student. He says he had never imagined how much easier life is for the disabled in South Korea.

“I don’t feel any discrimination toward disabled people in South Korea,” Ji says.”I think that’s because of its democracy and good education. I really feel it’s like heaven here.”

Ji says he is waiting for the Koreas to be unified. He says that’s when he will finally be able to step back onto his homeland.

 

Original article can be found here.

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Intimacy in North Korea

Last summer I spent two weeks as an English language partner to North Korean defector middle and high school students in a small town on the outskirts of Seoul. After four years, I found myself once again immersed in the complex jungle of teenage angst, hormones, and emotions. Well, I know from my university experience that those unpredictable attitudes and moods don’t necessarily go away when you get older and that everyone manages to overcome his inner-teenager individually. But, I remember that while we did our best to think about what kind of activities would be both fun and advantageous to our seventeen through twenty-year-old students, at least one person would say something along the lines of our need to understand that these students weren’t just defectors preparing for new lives in South Korea; they were also hormonally driven teenagers on the brink of young love, experiencing their first infatuations, and learning the art of flirtation. I did not notice too many hormonal imbalances erupting before my eyes, but what about attraction and relationships in North Korea? To go even further, what about sex in North Korea?

“A North Korean couple has a picnic along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, North Korea” (AP Photo/Vincent Yu).

Notorious for a reputation of severe control and discipline, to what extent does the North Korean regime play a role in sexual intimacy? According to Radio Free Asia, the simple answer is that “when it comes to the privacy of the bedroom, even the all-powerful North Korean Workers’ Party is largely hands-off” (Love and Sex in North Korea). Continue reading

In the News – Students Begin 31-Hour Fast for North Korean Defectors

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In the News – Students Begin 31-Hour Fast for North Korean Defectors

Beginning on Tuesday, members of Harvard Human Rights in North Korea (HRiNK) will fast for 31 hours to raise awareness about the 31 North Korean defectors recently repatriated by the Chinese government. The defectors face imprisonment, forced labor, and possible execution in their native country.

For HRiNK co-president Rainer A. Crosett ’14, the fast is an opportunity to correct Harvard students’ misconceptions about North Korea.

“They have the image of the Kim family, you know, and nuclear weapons,” he said. “People don’t actually know that there are, for example, 200,000 people living in concentration camps.”

Crosett added that the organized fast highlights the daily reality of famine and food shortages for many North Koreans.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea because the experience of so many of the North Korean people and refugees is one of intense hunger,” he said.

HRiNK co-president Stephanie Choi ’13 said that the latest defections do not represent isolated incidents. She added that many North Koreans have previously risked imprisonment, torture, and death to reunite with loved ones in South Korea and escape oppression. Continue reading