This morning, I was happy to read this article from BBC News describing the US's acceptance of six North Korean refugees. Happy for those six (four are women), but also saddened thinking about the tens of thousands of refugees scattered all over Asia need our country's help as well. Hopefully this act will beam a signal all over the world that North Korean lives have meaning.
It amazes me how other human rights atrocities inspire citizens all over the world to foment change (like recently with Darfur), and yet North Korea is consistently ignored. But, that's a post for another day. Today, let's focus on these six North Koreans and hope this is a baby-step towards freedom for the rest of their countrymen. Hope is all we can do.
Some background on what happened today—In October 2004 President Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act, which offers US support for human rights groups in North Korea and for refugees leaving the secretive state. In addition to earmarking $24 million a year for such causes, it makes North Koreans eligible for asylum in the US.
The law was co-sponsored by Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas.
North Koreans fleeing their oppressive country cross into China where they either live in fear of being repatriated, or they target foreign schools and other organizations hoping to seek asylum. They cannot ask the Chinese government for assistance or they will be immediately sent back to North Korea.
The fate that awaits these refugees when they return to North Korea? Not good.
North Korea is a place where public executions are common. Think: "Middle Ages." Think: people gathered in a public space to watch their fellow citizens get shot to death. Public executions are used by the "government" as a means to rule. Get caught stealing food because you and your family are starving to death? Get shot in the head in front of thousands of people craning their necks to see your last moments alive.
Six is not enough, to be sure. But it's a start.
—Stefania Pomponi Butler