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As part of a series of events for North Korea Freedom Week in Washington DC from April 26th to May 3rd, the Peterson Institute for International Economic held a panel titled "North Korean Refugees--Survey Evidence from China," on the 30th with Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Institute, and three North Korean defectors--Kim Seung Min, Kang Su Jin, and Kim Young-Il.
Noland, who began the talk, introduced polling data gathered from working with North Korean refugees.
Undoubtedly, the findings reveal that 30 percent of the respondents reported having lost a family member to hunger and 40 percent were unaware of international food programs operating in the North, such as the United Nations World Food Programme's. 96 percent replied that they did not believe they had benefitted from the food programs, implying that aid has been diverted to the military.
According to Kang Su Jin, the head of the Coalition for North Korean Women's Rights and who herself escaped from Pyongyang to South Korea in 2002, spoke on the suffering that North Korean women face in China. She spoke of a 26-year old woman who was sold as a bride to the eldest of a family of three sons in a remote village of China. After being sexually abused by the three brothers in return, she escaped with the mercy of her mother-in-law, who took pity on her and gave her some bus fare.
Kang confirmed the fact that pregnant refugee women, if repatriated to North Korea, are forced to have an infanticide.
Kang noted, "As long as the Kim Jong Il regime is in existence, negotiations with the Chinese government is futile." Instead of negotiating with China, she urged the U.S. government to choose a policy which would allow the acceptance of more North Korean refugees from third countries, as it has done for refugees from Somalia or Iraq.
So far, the U.S. has only accepted 46 North Korean refugees.
Kim Seung Min, the President of Free North Korea Radio--a radio broadcast, insisted that “we have to provide them with information and let them know what democracy means, so that they can enjoy freedom."
U.S. Congressman Ed Royce made a similar point to President Lee Myung Bak during his first official visit to the U.S. two weeks ago, suggesting the importance of radio broadcasting to the North.
Kim Young Il, President and Founder of the organization People for Successful Korean Reunification, spoke about the current changes taking place in North Korea.
He shared his observation that since the 1990s, the situation in North Korea has changed significantly, but the human rights situation is at its worst. "The economic system has transformed to a capitalist one, but not as a result of any change mandated by Kim Jong Il," said Kim. "The population changed the system for their survival."
The popularity of used Chinese buses was used as a example of the current trend in the North. Freedom of travel is restricted in North Korea, but with a bus and some money, people have been able to experience the freedom of mobility. Ironically, those who violate the law the most have been those closest to Kim Jong Il--the elites with power, money, and status.
One of the most tremendous changes, which may be difficult to comprehend by outsiders, is the ability to criticize Kim Jong Il among friends and family members, which was virtually unheard of 10 years ago, even between husbands and wives.
Kim concluded, "In order to [truly] change North Korea, the international community should pressure Kim Jong Il. Countries should not negotiate with him out of national self-interest."