“Struggle for Survival” fundraising event in Toronto

Megaphone“Struggle for Survival” is an event supported by the Scadding Court Community Centre in Toronto, Canada, and the office of Toronto City Councillor Raymond Cho. Jihyun Kwon, one of the organizers, asked CanKor to help promote the event, whose purpose is to raise funds to assist North Korean refugees in Toronto. See details in the poster below.

The event is sponsored by “North Koreans in Canada,” a small non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to serving North Korean refugees (both status and non-status) living in Canada. According to this organization, there are currently about 2,000 North Koreans who have found refuge in Toronto, but still struggling to survive. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: Escape From Camp 14


ESCAPE FROM CAMP 14, by Blaine Harden. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012. X 224 pp. hardcover. ISBN 978-0670023325. Reviewed by CanKor “Human Factor” editor Jack Kim.


For those who disbelieved, and continue to disbelieve, North Korean refugees when they first started trickling in, Shin Dong Hyuk’s story is the mother of them all. Born in a concentration camp, witness to unspeakable horrors, the protagonist of an amazing escape from a country that condemned him even before he was born. The story is, well, far too fantastic. It is unbelievable.

His story has been well documented in the media. After all, the book hit double digits on the amazon.com best seller list. According to Shin, he was born in Camp 14 to inmates of the camp, grew up there, watched his mother and brother executed, and serendipitously managed to escape not only the camp, but the DPRK itself. According to the author, Shin describes nonchalantly every day features of the camp that to those of us fortunate enough to live outside its fences, stir up Holocaust imagery: starvation, public executions, camp guards savagely beating inmates. He describes how snitching became a method of survival, to the point that he reverses previous accounts of his life in the book by admitting that this very snitching led to the execution of his mother and brother. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

North Korean defectors resettle, raise awareness in Canada

By Kyle Burton, Yonhap News Agency,  29 January 2012

Hundreds of years after European migrants traveled to North America seeking refuge and opportunity, groups of North Korean defectors have begun to resettle in Canada, with many calling the city of Toronto their new home.

Heo Tae-seop, a North Korean defector who settled in Toronto last year. (Courtesy of Kyle Burton)

Canada accepted 83 North Korean refugees in 2011, double the number of the previous year.

Heo Tae-seop is a North Korean defector who has been living in Toronto since May. For people like Heo, the consequences of attempting an escape can be severe. Those caught are repatriated and reportedly receive severe punishment. Some lucky individuals manage to sneak through the border and into China, while others navigate the harsh ocean waters to South Korea. Then, there are those who make the journey to North America where an entirely new life awaits.

“People who have just defected from North Korea do not know about democracy because they have been closed off from the world for so long,” said Heo. “For example, I am 48 years old, but in Canada I feel like I am a 1-year-old baby because I don’t know anything about Toronto or this country.” Read the rest of this entry »

Admitting North Korean Refugees: A Canadian Perspective

This is not exactly a direct response to Roberta Cohen’s excellent piece which was linked on CanKor a few days ago. As the Canadian situation is much different than the American one, it is impossible to respond directly to a different fact scenario. However, as many of the issues Roberta pointed out are salient in the Canadian context, these commonalities can certainly be a starting point for discussion on how to respond to the curious case of North Korean refugees.

As an advocate for North Korean refugees in the past, I can certainly comment on the situation in Canada and some of the challenges that have arisen since North Koreans magically started appearing en masse in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver in late 2005 and early 2006. These comments are my own, and do not reflect the opinions of HanVoice, an organization which I am still a part of. However, to balance this with another disclaimer, as a federal public servant working in the field of immigration enforcement, there is very little I can publicly comment on when it comes to our actual policies regarding North Koreans. The small suggestions I will make are my own and do not reflect the views of the government of Canada. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Admitting North Korean Refugees to the United States by Roberta Cohen

[From time to time CanKor will alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by Roberta Cohen, a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues; a Senior Associate at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Co-Chair of the the Board of Directors of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).. Please follow our links to this article on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

Admitting North Korean Refugees to the United States: Obstacles and Opportunities By Roberta Cohen

“The numbers are too small,” a Korean American told me, referring to the fact that the United States has admitted only 122 North Korean refugees to this country since the adoption of the North Korea Human Rights Act (NKHRA) in 2004, and that only an estimated 25 have received political asylum.[i] His remark reflected the view of Korean Americans who would like to see more North Koreans find refuge in the United States after the brutality, oppression, and economic hardship to which they have been subjected.

North Korea is one of the few countries in the world where permission to leave is highly restricted, making it incredibly risky for its citizens to seek refuge abroad. Despite this, tens of thousands have managed to cross into China where they are in hiding, more than 22,000 have made their way to South Korea, and at least 2,000 have reached countries in Europe and Asia.[ii] Why haven’t more gained entry to the United States?

In adopting the NKHRA, members of Congress recognized that despite the difficulty of affecting change inside North Korea, something should be done to help those who manage to escape. The act sought to facilitate the entry of “acutely vulnerable” North Koreans to the United States, calling for “a credible number” to come in as refugees, while recognizing South Korea’s “principal responsibility” for their resettlement.[iii]

Nonetheless, major obstacles continue to block their admission to the United States. To be sure, there has been progress since the adoption of the NKHRA—more than 20 North Koreans began to be admitted as refugees each year. Yet it is also true that the U.S. has the largest refugee resettlement program in the world and that of 73,293 refugees brought into the country in 2010, only 25 came from North Korea, whereas 18,016 came from Iraq, 16,693 from Burma, 12,363 from Bhutan, followed by Somalia (4,884), Cuba (4,818), Iran (3,543), Democratic Republic of Congo (3,174), Eritrea (2,570), Vietnam (873) and Ethiopia (668).[iv] …Read More

Other articles by Roberta Cohen:

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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