under 3 years of labor reformation but having met a religious person or attempting entry of South Korea is considered to be a severe crime. The youth repatriated this time are of great international interest and it is hard to say how they will be treated but if they were repatriated discreetly they could have been executed.
- How bad is the life of the North Korean orphans in China that they attempt to cross the borders of Laos and come to South Korea?
“Not just the orphans but all North Korean defectors are considered to be criminals and repatriated. North Korean women are considered “merchandise” in China. They are sold like livestock and beaten but they have nowhere to turn to. North Korean women can get executed if repatriated, so they choose to hide in China even if they become victims of human trafficking or risk their lives to come to South Korea. This is the same for orphans.”
- How will the North Korean defectors feel if they were repatriated because of the inappropriate response of the South Korean Embassy after risking their lives to cross the Laotian border from China?
“If the missionaries helped them over 2-3 borders risking their lives and handing them to the South Korean Embassy, most of them successfully came to South Korea. If only our government had been a little more attentive, they need not have been repatriated. Is it not a great pity that they were sent back just because of a lack in effort of 1% when 99% has been accomplished?”
- The Laotian government intends to levy penalties on the North Korean defectors. Will this not be a burden for them?
“Last March, a victim of human trafficking and children of the defectors born in China were brought to the South Korean Embassy at Laos. Their arrival to South Korea was delayed for nearly 3 months. It took them so long because their families had to make US$ 300 for penalty costs and US$ 480 for flight costs. Although it might be inevitable that Laos and Thailand rule the illegal entrants according to their local laws, the North Korean defectors do not have the financial means to pay the penalties. If the North Korean defectors had enough money, there are many brokers that can bring them to South Korea for 1m ? 1.5m won. Since they do not have this money they need to pay the brokers 3-4 times more money after they arrive. To burden them with penalties is too much for them to bear.”
- How does the US government treat them, if they come to the US?
“The US does not give the North Korean defectors any resettlement funds. The resettlement purpose is to be able to develop self-reliance. Flight costs are prepaid by the government and they request the costs to be repaid after 6 months upon arrival in installments over 2 years. I think waiting for them to settle down is very meaningful.”
National Assembly, ‘North Korean Human Rights Act’ pending for 9 years
- Is there a way to help the 9 repatriated youth from being executed?
“They have already been repatriated and our powers cannot reach them. As North Korea thinks much of its overseas reputation, our only response available will be to send them a resolution issued by the National Assembly and the UN issues a statement and the press reports on the repatriation of the North Koreans and their status.”
- “North Korean Human Rights Act” has been pending since the 18th National Assembly.
“The US has promoted the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004 and allowed 6 North Korean defectors to enter the US on May 5, 2006. The US has also passed laws for adoption of North Korean orphans. Why doesn’t the South Korean National Assembly pass the law? The Democratic Party should be ashamed of itself for continuously opposing the act. I am embarrassed and ashamed whenever I meet people from the US.”
As the interview was held in the office of Durihana, Pastor Ki-won Chun’s phone kept ringing. Pastor Chun kept telling his fellows working in China what they should do. “Beware of the police!”, “Don’t look as if you recognize each other!”, ”Do not blow the information about the secret meeting place even if you get caught.”
Pastor Chun used the word “stealing” when describing how they brought North Korean orphans into South Korea. “North Korean women raise children that were unwanted. If the mother becomes repatriated or escapes to South Korea, the orphans live with fathers that do not have any financial means to live and their lives are beyond bearable. If the mother in South Korea wishes to bring the child, the consent of the in-laws is required but the grandmother or relatives do not concede and so we virtually steal the children from their poverty.”
Pastor Chun says “This work is extremely dangerous as we can be labeled as “human traffickers” if the Chinese police finds out.”
Pastor Chun utters “Impoverished North Korean women can only be sold to brokers if they want to cross the border. Their families are being broken and they give unwanted birth by Chinese men and bring the child to South Korea led by their maternal love. The North Korean orphans will be a huge social problem even after unification. The Korean church will only be able to take care of a limited number of them and if the government does not react actively they will face another North Korean defectors’ crisis.”
Shocked by corpses of North Koreans in Tumen
Pastor Chun was born in a poor family in Gyeongsan, North Gyeongsang Province and became an hotelier. He managed a small hotel and was a fairly successful businessman. He heard news of building a special economic zone in December 1995 and went to Tumen near the Tumen River via Beijing where he was utterly shocked.
“Looking at the Tumen River, I had mixed feelings. I went down to the river to take photos but saw a pair of shoes in the frozen river. I thought it was strange that someone should take their shoes off for ice fishing. Looking closely I found that it was a body.”
Pastor Chun was very surprised and asked the guide about it. “Dead North Korean bodies float down every day,” explained the guide adding that there will be more along the way. Pastor Chun was taught anti-communism in school and had always thought communists were people with red colored skin and horns. He became confused and instead of being able to admire how blue the Tumen River was, his heart ached.
Stopping at Hunchun after Tumen, young beggars stretched their hands out to Pastor Chun. “They were about the age of five, I gave them some coins and they ran away. I then suddenly heard screams.”
According to Pastor Chun, the Chinese police beat the boy with his staff “until the boy’s ear ripped.” The boy was a young street beggar from North Korea looking for food. After dinner, Pastor Chun saw a young woman downtown screaming and being dragged by men. The guide explained “that woman is also from North Korea and finders are keepers.”
That night Pastor Chun prayed “Please do not bring me back to China.” The prayer probably never reached God. His late mother had prayed “let there be a pastor amongst our family” and with Pastor Jongsoon Kim’s recommendation, Pastor Chun entered the seminary. He had heard his mother’s request since he was a boy but after 40 years of denial, he accepted it and says “I still think it’s amazing, as to why I made that decision.” Businessman Chun so changes his life.
Ki-won Chun, who had become a pastor by then visited China again in July 1999. It was a field trip from the seminary.
“At the Yanji Airport, young street beggars were being beaten by the Chinese police and a young woman was kidnapped at a train station. Near sundown, I went out to get some fresh air by the river and I saw two dead bodies floating down. How everything was the same as 4 years ago. It wasn’t just deja vu, it was just exactly the same as before.”
Feeling familiar at a place that you’ve never been is called deja vu. Ki-won Chun starts Durihana Mission in December that year. Mission was secondary, it was foremost established to help North Korean defectors. Since its establishment 15 years ago, Pastor Chun has helped nearly 1000 North Korean defectors find new lives in South Korea and the US.
Durihana is an interdenominational evangelic mission organization, established in October 2, 1999. Durihana dreams of a unified Korea and started off as 25 fellow members gathered to pray in tears for the starved North Koreans and young beggars that travelled between Chinese and North Korean border cities and rural areas.
Pastor Chun says “We didn’t start with some grand sense of duty. Looking at the devastating lives every day, as fellow human beings, we could not look the other way.”
“Many ask me if I started the North Korean mission and rescue with a vision but I tell them that is not the case. People still call me, fax me or email me every day asking to be saved or to help find their daughters. I do this because I still hear these agonized voices.”
Imprisoned for 8 months after being arrested by the Chinese police
Pastor Chun was arrested by the Chinese police while trying to cross the Mongolian border with 12 North Korean defectors in December 2001. His arrest was for aiding illegal trespassing of borders. According to the Public Prosecutor Jia Zhen who arrested Pastor Chun, “you can be prosecuted for execution according to the laws of the People’s Republic of China.”
There was no torture but the chill of Mongolia in December was terrible. “Below 50 degrees Celsius was normal. Heating was provided 4 times a day for an hour each. Two dumplings made of flour was the daily food.”
“When I was arrested on December 30, 2001 the police did not inform anyone. Other missionaries asked around and found out that I was imprisoned. My wife found out only 3 months after my imprisonment. I shivered in fear as I did not know what I would be facing in the middle of the desert.”
A friend of Pastor Chun in the US appealed to the US Congress and the US Senate burdened the Chinese government by petitioning his release. Not a single person from the South Korean government visited him during his imprisonment of 8 months.
With all this happening in the outside world, Prosecutor Jia Zhen and Pastor Chun met every week in the interrogation room. The prosecutor asked “who made you do this?” and Pastor Chun answered “No one. I am helping my fellows because it hurts. Let’s assume that you saw a Taiwanese beggar in Seoul, would you not help? Is it wrong to help?” The prosecutor shouted “illegal trespassing of borders, abduction, aiding of escape into third countries, illegal religious activities! You’ve got to be kidding. Helping heart? I don’t believe you. Who is behind all this?” Pastor Chun answered “God is behind this all.”
Pastor Chun describes the situation as such; “for 6 months, he asked the same questions every week. The answers were the same. They didn’t understand, so they thought I was playing with them. They made funny faces while listening cross-armed and told me that if I told them sincerely what has happened, things will move fast but if not they could interrogate me for years.”
One day, three prosecutors came in with some papers and printed my hand for the ruling. Two left first and Jia Zhen remained and asked;
“Now tell me. Who really was behind all this?”
“How did God tell you?”
“It’s in the Chinese bible too. It says ‘Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless (Exodus 22:22).’ North Korean defectors are all fatherless, widows and strangers. You force the North Korean defectors back to North Korea but they die. They are being sold in China to avoid being repatriated. You are making this happen.”
“Can I read that book?”
Pastor Chun’s hair stood on ends. He thought that the prosecutor was trying to add illegal religious activities to his charges. After some thought, he said “Go ahead.” Luckily it was not a trap. The prosecutor said “You, good man” and left and smiled adding “I would like to help you but cannot and am sorry about that.” Pastor Chun gave his name card to the prosecutor as a friendly gesture and then after 15 days Pastor Chun was expelled from China in cuffs. He was let go on August 21, 2002 after being imprisoned for 220 days and being fined for 8 million won for human trafficking of 230 people.
In December 2002, Prosecutor Jia Zhen contacted Pastor Chun. The following year he entered Korea University Graduate School of Political Science and International Relations. Jia Zhen stayed with Pastor Chun for 2 years while studying at graduate school and started called him “father.” In August 2003, Pastor Chun’s daughter returned home for summer vacation from Beijing University. The two became very close and married on September 30, 2006. “The prisoner’s daughter” married “the prosecutor”.
North Korean orphans, international missing children without nationalities
In Pastor Chun’s interview with the Singaporean Newspaper “The Straits Times” in May 2010, he says “80% of the North Korean defectors are women and 90% of these women are victims of human trafficking. As there are a lack of women in China, the prices of these women have soared and are being sold in the farmlands for about US$ 1500.”
Pastor Chun states “these women are lured into China by prospects of making lots of money in China. Most of them do not know the reality.”
The process of escaping North Korea is by bribing the Border Patrol with 500-1000 Yuan per person and getting them through the Chinese border. They then wait until a buyer is found. Most of them are sold into the farm areas but some are being sold as prostitutes.
Pastor Chun emphasized “the biggest problem is the child born between the Chinese man and the North Korean woman.” The Chinese government does not acknowledge the human rights of a child born to a mother without nationality regardless of the father. Pastor Chun added “If the mother escapes the site of human trafficking or is repatriated, these children have no nationality, no citizenship and no parents. They live an utterly degraded life.”
“The problem is that these North Korean orphans have no nationality because of the Chinese government. They are also being neglected by the South Korean government.”
“Sung-ryong Kim at our Church has been in South Korea for 5 years. His mother gave birth to him in China and was repatriated and executed in North Korea. The South Korean Law requires proof that he is the son of a North Korean citizen. He should be acknowledged as citizen even if he is not allowed the resettlement funds. But how can his dead mother prove anything. We have the papers from China saying that ‘Sung-ryong’s mother was repatriated’ but to no avail. Sung-ryong’s citizenship has not been solved for the past 5 years, so he cannot go to school. The headmaster of a local elementary school allowed him to study and he is currently attending sixth grade but it is impossible to go to middle school.”
Operating “Durihana International School” an alternative school
Durihana currently focuses on the rescue of North Korean defectors and supports spreading the gospel in North Korea and the underground church. It also operates Angel’s house (for North Korean orphans without nationality), helps North Korean defectors settle, maintains international solidarity to secure refugee status for the North Korean defectors and participates in human rights movement among other various programs. This is what Pastor Chun says;
“By connecting churches around the country with the North Korean defectors, they feel less lonely and this lessens the cultural clashes that they experience. It also helps them settle down in South Korea more securely. We are trying to give the North Korean defectors a resting place and help them live in a community as they have lost their beloved family and home.”
- I heard Durihana International School was established in 2009 as an alternative school.
“The youth that have wandered in China have become too old and found it difficult to adjust at school. English was too hard as well. In this global era, it is difficult to survive without knowing English. Durihana International School was established to help these North Korean youth prepare to become leaders for the unified Korea.
Fortunately 80 or so English speaking volunteers including those that have graduated prestigious US universities are helping with the English studies. Upon graduation the students can choose to study in the US through the churches of the directors of Durihana USA.
Durihana is currently based in Bangbaedong, Seochogu, Seoul with about 50 North Korean defectors including college students. Pastor Chun says “the 4 story building that the mission uses is rented for 12 million won per month. Trying to have the International School and dormitory together, we lacked space and have additionally rented 3 small apartments.”
Going down to the canteen during the interview, students and teachers were singing happy birthday. Pastor Chun says “the ones that are taller and look better nourished are orphans from China and those that are shorter and smaller are from North Korea.” Of the 25 elementary, middle and high school students, 7 students, which is equivalent to 30%, were North Korean orphans from China.
- Do the North Korean orphans from China speak Korean?
“At first they do not speak a word of Korean but after 6 months of intensive study at the International School they start to speak. We also have many teachers fluent in Chinese. Even if these orphans do meet their mothers, it takes a lot of time for their wounds to heal.”
Government should provide settlement support program
- Your first focus was to bring the North Korean defectors to South Korea but now your focus has shifted to starting an International School and helping them settle?
“Looking at the first 300 North Korean defectors, I found it worthwhile to see them find freedom. Unfortunately after about 4 years and with more than 4500 North Korean defectors in South Korea, I heard that there were few that had properly settled down and some had become criminals. Some even fled abroad. If I were to uproot the tree, I thought it should be my responsibility to help them become properly replanted. I thought of giving them the training that they needed and help them blend into society.”
Pastor Chun explains “the North Koreans are accustomed to doing what the Party requested of them from very young and are familiar to receiving work from the Party. They are passive and do not know how to share and lack gratefulness. If they do receive help, rather than being grateful they question the intent of the provider.” Pastor Chun said that he went through difficult times and cried a lot when he was sued by the North Korean defectors, who he had risked his own life to save, for embezzlement and sexual harassment.
- What do the North Korean defectors say of Kim Jong Un?
“When talking to people in North Korea, they say that Kim Jong Un’s regime will not last beyond 2015-2018. To exercise authority, carrot and stick should both be used but coercion without carrots only causes rebellion. Pyongyang University of Science and Technology attended by the children of high level officials have full access to the Internet. Windows to the outside world are being opened one by one. Even our students show a change in attitude when talking of Kim Il Sung. They have some respect for him. Less so for Kim Jung Il and when talk of Kim Jong Un comes up, they curse openly saying “what would that kiddo know.”
- Why is it so difficult to settle down in South Korea?
“Their habits are from a socialist society. In North Korea, the government provides them with work and rations but in a capitalist world it is difficult to survive without making any effort. It is important to secure a system for these people to settle well and provide a settlement manual for anyone who comes to South Korea.”
Pastor Ki-won Chun has a clothes stand in front of Durihana’s building to teach the youth about capitalism. “The youth that sell clothes are given a fixed pay of 1 million won plus incentives. As they’ve learned that they will receive more if they try harder, their laziness has disappeared. We currently collect used clothes, fix them and resell them for 1000-2000 won per item. It would be of great help if a clothing company could help us. This would greatly help educate and increase the profits of the North Korean defectors.”
Governor of Colorado proclaims “Durihana Day”
Since December 1999 to March 2008 more than 1000 people have escaped China and Russia through Durihana. When Pastor Chun was prohibited from entering China, he helped plan escapes with activists in China over the phone and brought people out.
At the end of the 1990s, due to the food shortage in North Korea many escaped and an estimated number of 40,000 are hiding in China of which 10,000 are thought to be North Korean orphans who were born from human trafficking.
Pastor Chun says “it is a human rights issue that someone has to address and since my ban to enter China has been lifted in 2012, I go to China to bring the North Korean defectors if needed.” In March 2008, Pastor Chun produced a documentary called “Crossing Heaven’s Border” together with Chosun Ilbo. This was broadcasted via EBS from May 2-4, 2011. This documentary is a filming of North Koreans along the Tumen and Yalu River between March 2007 and May 2011.
“Crossing Heaven’s Border” touched hearts across the world and won 16 prizes from local and international media, including the Monte Carlo TV Festival Best Documentary Award. It was also the first Korean documentary to be nominated in the Emmy Awards of the US. The National Geographic reported Pastor Chun’s activities in February 2009 in “Escaping North Korea.” On July 18, 2009 Governor Bill Ritter of Colorado proclaimed July 17 as “Durihana Day” and gave support to his work and mission.
“I can only think of helping these North Korean fellow countrymen until they no longer need to live undignified lives roaming around in China. Although we have lived apart in different social systems for more than half a century we are still of one nation and we need to embrace the North Korean defectors warmly as they are living each day full of betrayal, resentment, anger, hatred and feeling victimized.”
“Durihana” is from the verse Ezekiel 37:17 ‘and they [the two] will become one in your hand.’ This verse is about God telling the prophet Ezekiel that Judah and Israel will unite.
‘In this wide world/ of the many people/ meeting you is so special/ two can become one/ two can become one/ I can bear whatever comes through/ I cannot imagine this world without you~’ Pastor Chun’s answer ringtone still rings in my ears.⊙
⊙ 57 years old. Graduated Baekseok University as Christian studies major. Graduated Baekseok University Christian Divinity School (Ordination)
⊙ 1999 Established Durihana Mission, 2006 Founded Durihana Church, 2009 Established Durihana International School.
⊙ Managing shelter for North Korean defectors in China, managing orphanage for North Koreans in China, Head of Durihana USA
⊙President of Durihana Inc.