North Koreans in Toronto: The NGO Predicament

It is no secret for anyone living in Toronto that persons of North Korean descent are living in Canada, and that most of them end up settling in Toronto. Also, for anyone who has devoted any effort to North Korean issues in Toronto, it is obvious after only a bit of time that most, if not all of them, have spent some considerable time in South Korea. You don’t have to notice that the first thing that many North Koreans do is obtain a smartphone, or that they stop needing your assistance after two weeks in Canada, or that the clothing they choose to wear is remarkably South Korean. Some will simply openly tell you that they came from South Korea and chose to live in Toronto.

Unfortunately, that is not the story they tell the Canadian immigration authorities. Doing so would spell doom to a refugee claim, which all North Koreans lodge upon entering the country. Rather, the typical North Korean refugee claim starts in North Korea and goes straight through China to Canada, omitting the South Korean leg of the journey. This is for obvious reason. Being honest and upfront about coming through a country that welcomes North Korean refugees with lavish subsidies would lead to an outright dismissal of their refugee claim.

There is a further wrinkle now that a lie has been told: the laws surrounding misrepresentation. If found to have misrepresented themselves to the government under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the claimant would then find themselves unable to enter Canada for two years, with legislation now in the House of Commons that would expand that period to five.

Although I have written in the past how the Canadian government should respond to this issue, what has been neglected is how civil society should cope with this recent phenomenon. How should non-governmental organizations that deal with North Korea specifically respond to the North Koreans arriving on our shores? Read the rest of this entry »

The End of the Beginning: Bringing About a Khrushchev Thaw in the DPRK

In the midst of Britain’s darkest hour, Winston Churchill famously remarked in 1942 that what the country faced was not “the end, it is not even the beginning of the end; but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

If there is anything to describe the events of what we have witnessed in the DPRK in the past week or so, Churchill’s words could not be closer to the truth. We seem to be at a bridge that has never been crossed in the history of the country, and no one is quite sure how long, or even how sturdy, this bridge actually is. The fact that this bridge is now in the horizon may also help some of us to rethink positions we have had in the past as well.

For many of us, from the perspective of observing North Korea from the “outside in,” the DPRK presents some unique and difficult challenges. It is important to note that it is in fact not even a fraction of the country that is responsible for the challenges that we are faced with; our quibble is with the people in Pyongyang who seem to hold the reins of power in that country.

With Kim Jong Il’s death, there has been a renewed interest in what we on the outside should be doing about those folks in Pyongyang we seem to have this quibble with. After all, we seem to be back at square one when it comes to dealing with the regime. Ten years of the Sunshine Policy brought very little in practical progress when it came to forcing the North Koreans to take off the proverbial Aesopian jacket. On the other hand, the last five years of hardline policies have produced equally dismal results. Read the rest of this entry »

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