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North Korean refugee rescue group visits campus

By Joon Park

Section: News

November 7, 2014

Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) held a meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 3 in Mandel G12 to raise awareness about the situation of North Korean refugees. The event also expressed hopes based on the changes happening in North Korea. The LiNK Nomads, presenters travelling to spread messages about North Korea, discussed the life of the jangmadang generation, young generations, in North Korea.

The E-board who coordinated the LiNK event at Brandeis included President Grace Hong ’16, Secretary Haeyoon Jung ’16, Publicity Chair Abraham Woo ’17 and Interim Treasurer Judy Nam ’15. About 30 people attended the event.

Following the introduction, the keynote speaker James Lee, a Nomad for LiNK from Texas, introduced the theme of the event. According to the LiNK Facebook page, Lee served as a corporal in the United States Marine Corps for six years before applying to be a Nomad. Growing up, he always heard about North Korea from his parents and teachers. Lee stated he had hoped his experience with LiNK will be the first step in learning more about North Korea.

Lee showed a video clip that explained the establishment of LiNK, a grassroots organization that has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people. Ten years ago, students started sharing the stories of North Korean people with their friends. As more people started to become aware of the challenges the North Korean population faces, more people joined the effort. What started as a word-of-mouth movement quickly became something larger. LiNK was started under one common belief: that the North Korean people should be free in their lifetime.

Lee asked the audience to imagine that Massachusetts was suddenly ruled by a dictator. The first thing that would disappear, he stated, is the Internet. Government propaganda would become the only information allowed. Then the government would make it illegal to travel without governmental approval. He cautioned that this is the reality of North Korea.

He continued to share the three important points of the jangmadang generation, and how this group is different from the previous generation. First, the jangmadang generation tackled the status of the North Korean economy from an early age, at a time when the economy was crashing. The per capita income of North Korea is 20 times less than South Korea. Lee also stated, “This is the first generation to be independently involved on its own. They stopped relying on the government. They hustled on their own. The government was a hindrance, not much of help.”

This generation grew up in a changing economic and informational reality. In the 1990s, North Koreans gained more information and that allowed them to contradict government propaganda. The jangmadang generation also came of age at the time of a new information technology. Markets created unprecedented access to foreign media consumption.

Lee also spoke about how, in North Korea, the government implements harsh punishments such as forced labor, torture, imprisonment and even public executions. He introduced Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in one of the five prison camps in North Korea. The prison he was in resembled Auschwitz.

The other speakers shared how thankful they were today to be living a life of a dream. It is a 3,000-mile journey for the refugees involved to find total freedom. The whole process of delivering them to either the United States or South Korea costs $3,000 dollars. Since 2010, LiNK has brought 260 refugees to live a new life. The organization is looking forward to changing the narratives of more North Koreans.

According to Lee, LiNK’s impact does not just settle on one person’s life. The refugees keep in touch with relatives back in China through the satellite system in China and send back word to North Korea. This is some form of communication with the outside world.

Brandeis LinK will have a film screening on a similar topic on Nov. 20.

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