Modern Day Underground Railroad: Escaping North Korea

Have you ever traveled miles on foot just to gather enough fuel to last the week? Have you ever imagined surviving in the kind of environment that would call for that?

I met someone that did.

This past spring, representatives or “Nomads” from Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) gave a screening at my school. In an outreach to students, the nonprofit organization, LiNK, serves to spread awareness of the very real ongoing crisis in North Korea. It also provides information on the humanitarian efforts being made, and most riveting of all, the lengths the members of LiNK go through in order to rescue these fugitives.

If you want covert missions under the cover of the night, just watch the trailer here to see the amount of risk LiNK members run to help refugees get to shelters in Southeast Asia. North Koreans have to evade soldiers with orders to shoot upon sight to make it over the border into the neighboring China. Even then, they face detainment by the Chinese government, which is why it is so important for organizations like LiNK to smuggle them to a haven that will provide for them.

What made the LiNK documentary screening so powerful was how incredible it all seemed. College-age students sneaking fugitives into China, leading them from safe house to bus around the border police? It is a modern day Underground Railroad. Every second of the hand-shot film you are expecting bullets and failure. What you find instead are heartbreaking stories, starved and tortured people torn from their families, and the flicker of hope that there are people out there like LiNK trying to help them.

Joseph Kim is not just a successful refugee; he is a university student living in America who gets nervous when speaking in front of crowds, just like any one of us. He wasn’t treated like a human in North Korea. It was he who embarked to a forest, several days walk by foot, for lumber. Despite their young age, he and his sister had no choice with a bedridden father and no cooking fuel. He recounted their fear and as they lost their way, two malnourished children alone in the countryside.

After his father eventually passed away from starvation, he was left on the streets to beg, but not even those that wanted to give had anything. The nation itself is in such a state of shambles that people like Joseph were desperate enough to gamble against death and political prisons by crossing the river.

“At the time, I did not do it for freedom,” Joseph told the enraptured room, “all I wanted was food. But now that I have freedom, I love it. It is a wonderful thing.”

TheHundred campaign by LiNK has helped resettle some 89 others like Joseph. Yet at the mention of “North Korea”, only nuclear missiles have a place in the conversation. Overshadowed by its democratic and industrialized counterpart of South Korea, North Korea remains an unknown fortress of Communist ideals. The political climate of North Korea is obvious to many, being the butt of insensitive political jokes. Their economy and urbanization is next to nonexistent. As a political entity in the world stage, it’s a country that is little thought of. For a country with the freedom of press, it is unacceptable to let a genocide occur out of not helplessness, but ignorance.

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