LiNK’s Biggest Milestone Yet: 1,000 North Korean refugees rescued!
I am incredibly humbled, grateful, and excited to announce that TOGETHER we have rescued 1,000 North Korean refugees!
This is the most significant milestone we have accomplished as an organization. But 1,000 is not just a number to us. It is 1,000 individuals with their own stories: mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, and friends - who now live in freedom and finally have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
It's amazing to think about how far we have come since that night back in 2009 at a bar in Seoul, South Korea. I was with our then VP and Director of Field Operations. We were channeling our anger and frustration at the stories we kept hearing over and over: North Korean refugees were fleeing into China but didn’t have the resources to make it to freedom; many were being arrested and forcibly sent back to unknown fates; North Korean women were being trafficked, sold as brides, and sometimes even exploited after they made it to Southeast Asia.
We had to do something.
So we set out to try something that we knew would be dangerous and audacious.
We put a call out during the 2009 holiday season and launched a campaign called The Hundred. The goal was to raise as much money as we could to help 100 North Korean refugees escape China as soon as possible. Through the unwavering tenacity, dedication, and optimism of LiNK’s early supporters, people around the world donated over $40,000 in less than two months.
A few months later, in the jungles of Southeast Asia, we completed our first rescue mission. We brought out a group of eight refugees, including four young women, a mother and her 7-year old son, and an elderly couple we lovingly nicknamed Grams and Gramps.
What started as one rescue mission grew. More people joined this movement: Rescue Teams popped-up on university campuses and in communities around the world raising funds to rescue refugees; LiNK Nomads drove across North America and hosted thousands of events to tell the stories of the North Korean people; and, most importantly, more North Korean refugees reached freedom.
I am in awe and beyond thankful for the unbelievable support of LiNK’s donors, fundraisers, and Rescue Teams around the world for believing in this work and funding the rescue of 1,000 lives - to our partners in China and our Field Team in Southeast Asia for risking their own safety to do this exhausting work tirelessly and anonymously - to our incredible staff who, have been through so many crazy ups and downs over the years, from unbelievable victories to agonizing heartaches.
But no matter what, I am so thankful that you have always believed in our mission and have never stopped believing in the North Korean people.
I am especially grateful to each North Korean refugee who trusted us with their lives and gave us the opportunity to become a part of their stories. I am filled with hope thinking about the day we will return to a free North Korea with all of our North Korean friends: to meet their families, visit their homes, and see them finally reunited with the ones they love -but, this time, in freedom.
Thank you for being a part of this movement. It is because of your support, encouragement, and hope that this work is possible.
In gratitude and in hope,
Humans of North Korea: This is freedom
I got foreign media from my dad. He was a member of the Korean Workers Party and many of his friends were security agents. They confiscated a lot of foreign media and gave it to my dad and he would bring it home.
Some of my most vivid memories are getting together with my friends at someone’s house, shutting off all the lights, and secretly watching South Korean dramas. It was exhilarating. If you heard anything outside, you’d get startled and think,
“Did they come to arrest us? Are we going to jail now?” It was thrilling doing things we knew we shouldn’t do.
Everything portrayed in the South Korean dramas was so clean and everyone seemed so wealthy. I used to think “Wow, there is such a world out there.” We were taught that South Korea was a poor country but I wondered, “Why can’t we live like that?”
I wanted to wear clothes from the dramas but I couldn’t find them anywhere. We used to get a lot of used clothes from the market down by the harbor. You either find used clothes or fabric and have a tailor make the outfit for you. After three or four days of wearing a new style, everyone would be wearing the same thing because it looked so cool.
My designs were very popular. If I started wearing something new, there was always someone who would wear similarly styled clothes because the number of South Korean dramas that inspired us was so limited. Girls would ask me where I got my clothes and if I wanted to exchange outfits. Bartering was very common and sometimes they’d offer their more expensive clothes in exchange for mine.
But you had to look out for the Inspection Unit. If they caught you wearing jeans and a hoodie, they’d cut the bottom of the jeans with scissors. My sister and brother were older than me so their friends were sometimes in the Inspection Unit. If I knew the person, I would just tell them, “I’ll go change right now” or “I’ll give you these jeans but please don’t cut the bottoms off” and I would go get it back from them later.
The regime doesn’t want people wearing those kinds of clothes. I think it’s because things like jeans symbolize freedom. North Korean society is so restricted that if they allowed jeans there would be no end to what people would want to wear.
Even now in South Korea, every time I put on a pair of jeans I think, “This is freedom.”
- Jihyun Kang escaped North Korea in 2009. She now works in the fashion industry in Seoul.