N. Korean refugees haunted by memories of hunger, warn ‘peace’ won’t end misery back home

by WorldTribune Staff, May 11, 2018

A North Korean defector living in the United States, who saw a number of family members die in the North’s famine in the 1990s, said she hopes President Donald Trump raises humanitarian issues when he meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un next month.

Photo released by the Korean Buddhist Sharing Movement showing North Korean refugee teen-agers hiding in a farm barn in China’s Chang Bai in October 1997. / AP

“If the North Korean government doesn’t drop the bombs around their other neighbor countries, that doesn’t mean it’s actual peace for North Korean people,” Grace Jo, a 26-year-old defector, said in a recent interview. “Inside of North Korea, there are thousands of people that will still die and keep dying in the future. So I don’t really call it a peace treaty.”

Jo arrived in the United States in 2008 as a refugee, one of about 200 North Korean refugees who have been resettled in the U.S., Reuters reported.

In the first-ever summit between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader, Trump and Kim will meet in Singapore on June 12.

Jo said her two younger brothers died of starvation in North Korea, as did her grandmother. Jo said her older sister disappeared and her father escaped to China to find food but was caught, returned to North Korea and was tortured and starved to death in a North Korean jail in 1997.

Jo said the hunger was so severe that, at one point, she and her siblings ate six newborn mice found under a stone.

Eventually, a Korean-American pastor raised money to bribe North Korean officials for the release of Jo, her mother and her one remaining sister. In 2008, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) took the family from China and settled them as refugees in the United States.

Jo is currently a college student in Maryland and works as an assistant in a dentist’s office, but also helps run NKinUSA, an organization her sister founded to help rescue North Koreans from their country and establish new lives, the Reuters report said.

She said she hopes the struggles of North Koreans are not buried in the push to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

“Whatever the leaders decide, I hope the U.S. government can bring up the humanitarian issues and think about the people in North Korea,” Jo said. “The only way to help this generation of North Koreans is to end that regime.”

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