Heart-wrenching family reunions, a damning report by the UN and a missionary arrested for possessing religious pamphlets, were all stories coming out of North Korea last week.
It all seems surreal. About 3 million people died of starvation between 1995 and 1998 in a country that currently holds 200,000 of its own citizens in concentration camps. And to top it all off, a chubby, young dictator who seems more interested in basketball than feeding his own people is running the country.
It's surreal until you sit and talk to someone who has survived terrible conditions in North Korea. As someone who has spent a considerable part of my life helping these people, I must tell you that this is all real and you should help if you can.
I spent four years in Northeast China helping North Korean refugees find food, shelter, medical attention and provided a shoulder they could cry on. In 2003 I founded an organization, Crossing Borders, to help with their needs. While I was in China, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans poured into the country illegally and risked their lives for food and freedom. But what they found in China was another horror.
Many of the North Koreans who escaped in the 2000s were women and most of these women were sold to Chinese men as forced brides. I've spoken to many of these women who recounted the terrors of human trafficking and were treated like slaves.
One girl I met, So Young, was a 16-year-old girl sold to a 57-year-old Chinese farmer who could not find a bride for $1000. She was abducted and raped by human traffickers then held captive to the man she was sold to as a modern-day sex slave. So the group of men shared her and locked her in a shed until they needed her. This is a real person and this is happening today.
I escorted a group of teenagers, some of whom were survivors of the North Korean prison system, into the British embassy. We rushed passed Chinese soldiers who were instructed to arrest and detain North Koreans who try to enter. I spent time with them listening to their hopes, fears and dreams. Today they enjoy the gift of freedom in South Korea.
The U.N. released a report last week detailing this regime's crimes against humanity in a 400-page report replete with testimonies from those who have escaped. These crimes include the imprisonment of its own citizens in labor camps (tactics akin to those used by Nazi Germany, according to the report) and the use of food as a means of controlling its population. Upon release of the report, the chairman of the U.N. inquiry, Michael Kirby, said, "Now the international community does know. There will be no excusing a failure of action because we didn't know."
There is ample evidence for everyone to access about the crimes of the North Korean regime.
In 2006 Crossing Borders' Director of Public Affairs addressed congress detailing what we saw at the China-North Korea border. I wrote a book that was published in 2009 called, "Escaping North Korea: Defiance and hope in the world's most repressive regime." There are other books, websites, news articles and documentaries, which can tell you the same thing. Yet the problem persists and the people still suffer.
The worst thing we can do is ignore the problem and hope it goes away on its own. We must not take this information and move on with our lives. What if the world passively looked on as Hitler made his march through Europe and just hoped for the best? Or if the abolitionists just hoped that slavery in the US would end? The world's most pressing issues demand action.
There are ways we can help the North Korean people through organizations like Crossing Borders and Liberty in North Korea, both of whom are doing fantastic work.
I ask you today -- before the media fixes its gaze on another story -- to help the North Korean people today. Donate. Volunteer. Tweet. Host events. Hound your elected officials. We might be their only hope.