LiNKing North Korea in the U.S.

[imText1]A greater awareness of the human face of North Korea issues is needed to help further the cause of North Korea human rights in the U.S., according to the head of one NGO dealing with refugee problems most closely, Liberty in North Korea (LiNK).

Established in 2004 by just two passionate individuals to educate young college students and leaders about North Korean refugees, LiNK is now one of the most active awareness-raising groups in the U.S.

“We are trying very hard to work with other groups to try to end this crisis and raise awareness globally about this issue. We hope to do that by sort of redefining people’s perception about North Korea and focus on the people of North Korea,” the head of the organization, Hannah Song explained to The Daily NK during an interview on Friday in Seoul.

Human rights violations perpetrated against the North Korean people are a long-running problem, and the steady flow of defectors in South Korea within the past ten years provides circumstantial evidence that the problem is not really getting much better. Yet while the issue has made big strides in South Korea, in the U.S. it is still the case that where there is recognition of the problem posed by North Korea, it is often still in the context of a security threat posed by a rogue state memorably described as lying within an “Axis of Evil.”

As such, Song said she believes that, “Human rights issues need to be much broader. We need to focus a lot more on bringing in other people not just the Korean-American community; there are large efforts to get outside the Korean-American community, because the Korean community is divided on this issue.”

Progress has been made, Song also noted, saying, “Perceptions have been raised in the U.S. As a result of the collective efforts of a lot of other groups and the media there has been a very slight shift in focus in that they are starting to focus more on the human stories.”

She added, “I think the level of interest in the U.S. is growing; presently it’s growing among the very general population, meaning students or your average person in North America who never even knew that the Koreas were divided. It is not about how we tell the story but what we say about these issues.”

However, she cautioned, “In Washington D.C. the news is still heavily based on security issues. “

LiNK is not just about awareness raising, either. Alongside its work domestically in the U.S., the group runs a number of impressive projects in Asia to try and improve the lives of North Korean refugees there. “We work on providing emergency relief for North Korean refugees. We help to resettle them and provide them with resettlement assistance in South Korea and mostly in the U.S.,“ Song explained.

“In China with our partners we have a shelter there mainly for children; it’s a little bit different, we help to maintain and sustain them. Education, transportation and things like that,” she added. “In Southeast Asia, we have a shelter there for refugees who wait for a long time to get processed for resettlement. And so from the beginning when they first come in we sit them down and we do an orientation where we explain these are your benefits if you want to go to this country versus that country and we lay that all out for them.”