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2016-01-21 12:08:48
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Dong Sung LEE


This is an appeal by a North Korean lumberjack, Mr. Dong Sung Lee, who had been hiding in Russia. His urgent plea had reached us via a Japanese journalist. The Citizen's Alliance had supported him financially from October 1996 to April 1998. Mr. Lee successfully defected to Seoul via a third country.​

No one to turn to

Some went to China. They were the ones who had worked with Chinese to make money. Some lived with Chinese women and followed them to China. They also made money. Staff officers at the laborers' office looked after them. Naturally they didn't care for earning rubles but to fatten officers' pockets. When they were told to return for inspection, they made up their minds to go to China, fearing their discovery of their illicit relations and public scrutiny into their party loyalty. Those who stayed in Russia were all penniless men who would work hard to earn rubles. And they are the ones who would provide stream of defectors. Some were reportedly found to be engaged in money transactions among fellow workers. 

Some were accused of listening to South Korean broadcasting, although their number was very small. Trifling nature of their infraction notwithstanding, the North Korean authorities stirred up things by issuing arrest warrants and etc., convinced that threatening posture would bring about peace and tranquillity. They often talked about party members who had come to Russia: how easily they would turn against the party and run away. You don't trust them by all means. Perhaps the security agents were trying to prove accuracy of their premonitions. To ferret out those impure elements and turncoats the security agents should be staying there for an extended period of time. So goes their logic. They also seemed to persuade their superiors for more maneuverability to keep closer tab on the lumberjacks. 

We are not sure how many North Korean defectors are roaming about. Perhaps their number is 40 or 50. But it does not pose any significant problem. In Russia "Koryo People" have been there for quite a long period. And after Perestroika (Restructuring) some South Korean clergy and entrepreneurs along with other Koreans in abroad came to Russia. 

Numerous instances show that those wretched defectors are not welcomed even among Koryo people. Doors wouldn't be open for them. Koryo people give a plausible explanation to that. Why they turned their backs against the fellow Koreans? A rumor has a lot to do. North Korean security agents, convinced that the defectors would be caught without too much effort if Koryo people kick them out, came up with several compelling stories: "so and so murdered a person on such and such occasion and how. Another defector raped a host family's daughter and fled. Still another stole things from a host family and fled." Even if the stories turn out to be true, they should not be made public since it would be a great shame to North Koreans. However, the security agents were so eager to spread the rumors with no regret, not realizing they were spitting at themselves. They employed same dirty tricks in supplying false information to Russian police. 

Gossips spread fast among the North Korean vendors in the marketplace. Of course, the gossips got embellished as they traveled fast. When the deserter would show up to a marketplace and ask for help, he is risking his own life. His unshaved and haggard look would easily betray his identity. This may be the reason why so many deserters were caught in the marketplace. At first wine was offered to them by fellow North Koreans, once they got drunk their presence would be tipped off to security agents. How could they survive under these conditions? 

Who will help us?

Nobody will benefit by turning in deserters. Certainly they will pay dearly as political prisoners. Their grudges will surely torment those informants even in their dreams. We should help them by all means. 

Regardless of their past, whether they were party members or simple laborers, we should embrace them as fellow human beings. The way you treat them will undoubtedly determine whether you are a person with a strong sense of justice. Your conscience will dictate you when you meet them. Listen to their stories with understanding and compassion. Majority of them wants to settle down in Russia. We need to help them so that their dreams come true. Some of them reportedly contacted South Korean officials for possible defection to Seoul. Surely they all reached the river of no return. Some waited to hear from South Korean officials over a year. Considering North Korean stance toward such behavior, it doesn't take a genius to figure out what will happen to them if they are caught. They were risking their lives, since asking for defection to South was undoubtedly a high treason. It would be literally killing them, not merely an irresponsible action, to deny them visas with flimsy excuses. It would bring about same consequences if the process simply prolongs. Committing suicide among the deserters eloquently demonstrates their desperate situation. 

South Korean press and radio often make statements like this: there are such and such numbers of North Korean deserters in Russia. Some of them are reportedly asking asylum to the South. Of course, this sort of report would not help their cause. I am not sure how much "political mileage" those statements may garner. I would like to stress this: so many deserters are being arrested because of South Korean officials' failure in prompt administrative decisions.

A college professor wrote in a magazine called "Unified Korea" that North Korean defectors and deserters should be welcomed as righteous warriors for unification. It certainly touched my heart. However, it would be best if the South Korean side accepts them and let them enjoy their new lives as ordinary citizens instead of setting them on pedestal. It has been quite awhile since Saekoryo News Paper had carried the article "North Korean Lumberjacks Will Come to South Korea Within a Month," which had aroused many defectors' expectations. 

Were it realized within a year, not a month as had been rumored, it would be nice. Fewer deserters would have to knock on doors asking help in remote villages in Far East. We should help those deserters with tangible plans and detailed measures. After all they too are human beings and fellow brethren. 

There should be no strings attached when we help them. By extending genuine brotherly assistance we encourage them to embark on a new chapter of their lives. Let us not add to their misery with further mistreatment and indifference. They have suffered more than enough. The more we think of them, the more miserable their predicament appears.