Dispatch from North Korean Escapee Sungju Lee: Setting Policy for North Korean Refugees in Canada
In September, NKHR received its first communication from Sungju Lee, a young North Korean escapee who is interning in Canada based on a recommendation by NKHR. These past couple of months, Lee has led a busy life in Toronto, which boasts the highest concentration of Korean immigrants in Canada. He has been talking about his life in North Korea at formal gatherings; delivering special lectures at universities; and participating in television, radio, and newspaper interviews. Most recently, Lee traveled to the Canadian Capital of Ottawa and is now working as an assistant in the office of Barry Devolin, a member of the Canadian Parliament. Lee stated that he and Representative Devolin are tirelessly working to launch a project in Thailand with the NGO One Voice.
Lee provided NKHR with a brief overview of his work with One Voice and Representative Devolin. Representative Devolin is a four-time member of Parliament and prominent figure in Canadian politics. Having lectured at the Busan University of Foreign Studies earlier in his career, Devolin developed a keen interest in the issue of Korean reunification. Notably, he is striving to alleviate, through every possible means, the difficulties faced by North Korean defectors. Devolin has maintained a close relationship with NKHR ever since NKHR’s international conference on North Korean Human Rights and Reunification in Toronto four years ago.
One of the fundamental goals of One Voice is to assist defectors who are stranded in China, ultimately helping them settle legally in Canada. One Voice was a co-host of NKHR’s Toronto conference and provided assistance to Sungju Lee as the first beneficiary of the new young defectors’ internship program.
The Thailand Project spearheaded by One Voice and Representative Devolin is designed to help solve a problem faced by many North Koreans who want to seek asylum in Canada. Sometimes, before reaching Canada, these North Korean escapees pass through South Korea, where they are given South Korean citizenship. That citizenship prevents them from being able to obtain asylum in Canada. The Thailand Project would bring defectors directly to Canada from a refugee camp in Thailand, one of the only safe passage countries for North Korean defectors. It is not an easy task, as doing so requires that the Canadian Parliament enact a special law. Having the support of Sungju Lee lends an important personal voice to the meaningful work of Representative Devolin and One Voice.