North Korean refugees in Toronto carry burden of fear (Toronto Star)

by Mary Ormsby and Leslie Scrivener, Toronto Star, 30 April 2012

will not have their faces photographed. They will not disclose their names. (Aaron Harris/Toronto Star)

Three unidentified North Korean immigrants in a Toronto church (Photo by Aaron Harris, Toronto Star)

The three North Korean women will not have their faces photographed. They will not disclose their names.

But certain things they will reveal. How they ground tree bark and cooked it into a thin gruel for food. How they were sold to brokers to work as maids or “unofficial wives” in China. How starving neighbours — children as well as adults — were executed for stealing even a morsel of meat.

“Our lives meant nothing,” one of them says. “We were like flies.”

The fear that propelled the women to flee the brutality of their homeland clings to them as refugees in Toronto, terrified their freedom in Canada will mean death to family and friends in North Korea, which calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

That may explain why some, like 13-year-old Sol Han, reported missing from a local shelter this week, melt away into the broader GTA population. Maybe never to be heard from again. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: “Witness To Transformation” by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland


WITNESS TO TRANSFORMATION: Refugee Insights into North Korea, by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland. Washington DC: Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011. 182 pp. US$23.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-88132-438-9. This book review was written by CanKor Human Factor Editor Jack Kim.


In a former life as a management consultant, there was one lesson my superiors drilled into me: good decisions were all about data, data, and data. The more data you collected that was of superior quality, the more likely you were going to make a recommendation that would benefit the client.

Of course, that seems like common sense to most of us. But sometimes this simple lesson is lost upon those who make the “above-my-paygrade” decisions in life. Notwithstanding the limits of evidence-based decision-making, there are plenty of instances we can point out in the geopolitical sphere where catastrophic decisions were made with little regard to the data available. For example, Iraq comes to mind. The Rwandan massacre is another example of the world ignoring the evidence available.

But in many cases it is not only the qualitative analysis of data that is the issue – it is a lack of data in itself that prevents us from making decisions we should have otherwise made. When it comes to human rights, the world’s experience with the Cambodian genocide comes to mind. One of the reasons, especially early on, that the world stood idly by as at least two million Cambodians were murdered by Pol Pot and his cronies, was the Khmer Rouge’s ability to manage the information that came out of the country. In short, the atrocities themselves were hidden behind the curtain of control, sparking doubts of credulity in the outside world.

Of course, if there’s any a regime that has been as successful as the Khmer Rouge in controlling information flows, it is Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean Refugees in China: Looking at the Evidence

The DPRK-PRC Border, near Tumen, PRC (Summer 2010)

The debate on humanitarian aid to the DPRK rages, both here on CanKor as well as outside of CanKor’s virtual walls. However, there is one aspect of this unfortunate situation that is often overlooked in the ongoing dialogue: what happens to those who are affected by hunger.

The previous famine in North Korea brought many changes to the country, but none was possibly more remarkable than the catalyst it provided for the largest exodus of people the country had seen since the Korean War. The numbers betray this story: pre-famine, the Ministry of Unification tells us that there were less than 1,000 North Koreans settled in the ROK. As of April 17, there are more than 21,000. Read the rest of this entry »

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