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,
The Red Box: Misunderstandings and Stereotypes about North Koreans
For North Korean refugees, resettling in a new society comes with many challenges. One of these challenges is overcoming the stereotypes about North Korea and the North Korean people.
In the latest episode of The Red Box, our North Korean friends and 2019 LiNK Advocacy Fellows talk about the struggle of of facing stereotypes after resettling in South Korea.
Watch as Jeongyol, Joy, Dasom, and Ilhyeok answer your questions in The Red Box Series!
Read the transcript of this episode below!
All: Welcome to the Red Box!
Are there any misunderstandings about the North Korean people that make you feel uncomfortable?
Joy: When I first came to South Korea, was working part-time at a convenience store. I was still very young and had a very heavy North Korean accent.
In South Korea, when a customer enters the part-time employees don't really greet them. But I used to greet the customers standing and say "Welcome!" so people would ask me where I'm from.
I'd tell them that I'm from North Korea. They'd say "oh really?" After they get their stuff and put them on the counter, they'd asked me if I ever had jjajangmyun or pork in North Korea? They'd ask me these types of questions. Some people ask because they don't know but sometimes they ask questions that insinuate that we were all so poor in North Korea. Not everyone in North Korea is like that. There's people who live well too
Jeongyol: If someone asked me that, I’d tell them I might've lived a wealthier life there [in North Korea].
Joy: So those types of questions made me feel a little uncomfortable.
Jeongyol: A lot of people think like that.
Dasom: People think that all North Koreans are poor, ignorant, and uneducated. People have told me that even though I must have starved and lived poorly in North Korea, I don't look the part.
Maybe some people did or didn't have enough food to eat. There are poor people and there are rich people too. Every country is the same — it’s the same in South Korea too. There are rich, poor, and homeless people in South Korea too. I don't think it's right to judge someone like that. It made me feel very uncomfortable
Jeongyol: When I was in high school, there was a soccer match between North Korea and South Korea. But all of a sudden they asked me which team I'm cheering for. So I was startled by the question.
Should I say I'm cheering for North Korea or South Korea? What's my identity?
Even though I'm living in South Korea as a South Korean citizen, they didn't recognize the fact that I'm also South Korean. That we were the same people.
So at the time I answered, "I'm not cheering for either team. I don't care who wins. I’m just watching the game for fun.” It went over smoothly but afterward I kept thinking about it. But now that I think about it…It wasn't my choice to be born in North Korea.
Jeongyol: I could've been born in the U.S. but somehow I was born in North Korea.
Anyone could've been born in North Korea.
It's not anyone's fault. So from that moment on, I became confident. I am just who I am.
Ilhyeok: I have this older friend from China. During holidays like in January, he'd always ask me if I am visiting my hometown. Whenever he asks me that question, I want to be able to tell him that I'm am going [home] but I can't because I can't go back so I just don’t answer him. When he asked me if I'm going home, I just wished that I could return home one day.
It's heartbreaking not being able to go home.
During Chuseok and New Year's Day, those two holidays are when I miss home the most.
Joy: One uncomfortable question for me was when I was in school or met people was when they asked me why there's no riot or uprising in North Korea. Sometimes people ask because they really don't know but sometimes they insinuate that we're cowards.
And with that viewpoint, they ask why we won't revolt against the government. I try to explain but they still insist and say, ”But you guys still should have done something.” That makes me a little sad.
In North Korea, there's a system of monitoring each other. So if one person says something bad, they'd get reported right away and taken.
Jeongyol: In South Korea there were a lot of civil riots so they ask why we didn't do anything in North Korea.
Joy: But it's a very different situation.
Jeongyol: The system doesn't allow it.
What also made me uncomfortable was if I did something wrong, people would blame it because I'm North Korean.
They say things like, “It's because she's North Korean.” That made me upset. Other people say bad things and make mistakes too. But because of one mistake they say all North Koreans are like that and that I wouldn't know things or be able to do things because I'm from North Korea.
I hated hearing that so I wouldn't tell anyone that I was from North Korea.