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Rally urges China to grant refugee status to N. Koreans

WASHINGTON (BP)–Korean-Americans initiated a campaign to bring freedom to North Korean refugees trapped in China at a July 17 rally in Washington.

The event, held on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, inaugurated an effort seeking to convince China’s government to take the following steps:

— Grant refugee status to about 300,000 North Koreans who have fled the oppression of their home country.

— Stop the return of North Korean refugees to their country, where they face imprisonment, torture and execution.

— Permit the North Korean refugees to move to another country, such as South Korea or the United States.

Representatives of the Korean Church Coalition (KCC), which sponsored the rally, gathered from across the country to begin the effort and to urge Congress to bring pressure on China in the time leading to next year’s Summer Olympics in Beijing.

The regime of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il is one of the most oppressive in the world, denying the most basic rights to its citizens. It is a perpetrator of a variety of human rights violations, among which are the detention, torture –- including forced abortions -– and execution of political prisoners. The government has diverted foreign food aid intended for hungry people to the military or the black market, thereby contributing to the starvation of from 2 million to more than 4 million North Koreans since a famine began in 1995.

The regime is especially repressive of Christians and other religious adherents. North Korea is one of eight governments designated by the State Department as “countries of particular concern,” a category reserved for the world’s most severe religious persecutors.

Many North Koreans have fled across the northern border into China. Refusing to abide by international agreement, the Chinese government has declined to consider the North Koreans as legitimate refugees, returning many of them to their home country. Five of every six North Koreans repatriated are dying, said KCC General Counsel Sam Kim at the rally. Some of the women who escape to China are kidnapped by human traffickers and forced into sexual slavery.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, expressed gratitude at the rally for North Korea’s recent announcement it had halted its nuclear program, although he said much more progress is needed.

“[U]ntil all the people of North Korea are treated as human beings rather than as animals, until they are treated as free people instead of serfs in Kim Jong Il’s feudal kingdom, we will not have finished the job,” Land told rally participants under the mid-day sun. “I join with you in calling on the United States and every civilized nation in the world to make human rights an inextricable part” of any negotiations with North Korea.

Those who escape North Korea frequently “find themselves the victims of another tyranny –- China’s refusal to acknowledge their refugee status,” Land said.

The Chinese government “is entirely responsible for this refugee crisis. This situation is unlike any refugee crisis in the world today, because these refugees have a place to go,” said Suzanne Scholte, president of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, at the rally. She said the refugees would be welcomed in South Korea and the United States.

At least 14 humanitarian organizations pledged several years ago to assist China with resettling refugees, but “China refuses to allow the humanitarian community to assist and instead hunts them down and jails humanitarian workers,” she said. “South Koreans, Japanese, U.S. citizens and its own citizens are jailed for helping North Korean refugees.”

The new campaign, known as “Let My People Go Before 2008 Beijing Olympics,” will ask churches, synagogues and human rights organizations to display large banners with its slogan. It also will urge the federal government and all 50 states to adopt resolutions calling for a reversal of China’s policy on North Korean refugees. Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., has drafted a resolution for the U.S. Senate.

Peter Sohn, president of the Korean Church Coalition and pastor of Bethel Korean Church in Irvine, Calif., said rally participants are weak in comparison to those opposing them.

“However, we must not forget that the cries of our brothers and sisters in North Korea and the refugees in China are indeed reaching the throne of God,” Sohn said. “Father God hears every single lamenting and mourning prayer of those who cry and pray for North Koreans. With God on our side, I have confidence that His work will be done so that our efforts will transform into David’s sling stones against Goliath and become more powerful than the missiles of the evil Kim Jong Il regime.”

Rep. Ed Royce, R.-Calif., spoke at the rally, and letters of support from Brownback and Sen. Barack Obama, D.-Ill., were read.

It was recently reported North Korean Christian evangelist Son Jong Nam is awaiting public execution for his faith. Brownback has teamed up with Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), an Oklahoma-based ministry that aids persecuted Christians around the world, in an effort to secure Son’s release.

VOM is asking people in the United States and around the world to send letters and e-mails directly to Son through its website, www.prisoneralert.com. The letters will be mailed to the North Korean delegation to the United Nations with a plea to the North Korean government to spare Son’s life and release him from prison immediately.