1/15/13

Open door to N. Koreans (Korea Times, January 16, 2013) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Open door to N. Koreans

By Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Last Dec. 12, I fired off an opinion piece of about 1,500 words to the Washington Post. It easily could have been 1,600 words, but I deleted all of the curse words. The day before, I had learned that the United States government had rejected visa applications by three of the students at the Mulmangcho School for North Korean refugee adolescents.

Mulmangcho (meaning, ``forget-me-not”) is a small alternative school located in Yeoju, more than an hour south of Seoul. It opened last September with 11 former North Korean children who are orphans or are disadvantaged in some other way. It was founded by former national assembly member Park Sun-young and a distinguished board of directors.

Why were the youngsters rejected? The explanation I got: 1) The U.S. government is concerned that they might not return to South Korea and 2) there was a question about their refugee status because they didn’t have proper paperwork proving they were from North Korea.

North Korean youngsters first live under the boot of the Kim crime family in the North, punished or executed for daring to escape. Those who escape to or are born in China live as stateless people who cannot legally attend school, work, or visit a hospital. Those who make it here struggle to adapt to South Korean society. For some, the U.S. could represent a clean start.

U.S. policy may be catching up to the problem of North Korea’s stateless children. A bill, ``North Korean Child Welfare Act of 2012,” on protecting ``stateless children” from North Korea is expected to be signed by U.S. President Barack Obama. Many of these children are orphans or stateless because they were orphaned or abandoned in other countries, mainly China (including to mothers who were kidnapped or sold to Chinese men).

The law calls for the secretary of state to facilitate ``immediate protection for those living outside North Korea through family reunification or, if appropriate and eligible in individual cases, domestic or international adoption.”

That’s certainly a good start. But the U.S. government needs to have a laissez-faire policy when it comes to North Korean refugees. Waive the rules that split hairs over terms like ``defector,” ``refugee” or ``asylum seeker.” Let them in.

That was the policy of the U.S. government, welcoming the world’s ``huddled masses,” until 1924 with the exception of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act. It is literally life and death for some to escape, as it has been before, and the U.S. government has failed before, too. At a press conference in 1938, U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt was asked, ``Would you recommend a relaxation of our immigration restrictions so that the Jewish refugees could be received in this country?” In a response that should live in infamy, Roosevelt answered, ``This is not in contemplation. We have the quota system.”

The U.S. has a ``system” today, too, as the youngsters at Mulmangcho have learned. America’s immigration bureaucracy has demands for proper “papers, please,” but it is often difficult for North Korean adolescent refugees to produce such documents. The North Korean government didn’t process any paperwork or stamp their passports on the way out.

North Korea won’t let North Koreans go. China won’t let them pass through. The United States government should make it easier for them to find freedom at last.

The writer is the international adviser to the Mulmangcho School for North Korean Adolescent Refugees in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, and a member of the board of trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at cjl@post.harvard.edu.

Original Korea Times link

Previous commentaries and activities concerning North Korea

North Korean refugees in South Korea, TBS eFM 1010.3, January 1, 2013 (radio interview).
Why I won't go to North Korea, The Korea Times, December 27, 2012 (op-ed). 
GSIS Christmas Drive, December 7-21, 2012.  
To be a good volunteer, use your brain, The Korea Times, December 5, 2012 (op-ed).
Asia Pacific International School fundraiser, November 21, 2012 (speaker, organizer) 
IVC charity fundraiser, Yonsei University, November 20, 2012 (speaker, organizer) 
"Balloon launch to North Korea," Sept. 15, 2012.
"Hyeon-seo Lee on Ted.com" August 28, 2012 (co-chair).
"Reasons for Hope in South (and North) Korea," Atlas Experience, Colorado, USA, April 25, 2012, speaker.
Nothing to Envy? Roundtable with North Korean refugee, April 5, 2012 (moderator) 
"Common Sense" on North Korea, Korea Times, April 2, 2012 (op-ed)
Helping North Koreans 'strike the blow', Korea Times, March 22, 2012 (op-ed)
“Freedmen” from North Korea, Korea Times, March 4, 2012 (op-ed)
The Death of Juche? Roundtable discussion about the development of markets in North Korea, Roundtable, September 28, 2011.
Surprise! North Koreans Love Me The Korea Times, July 2010 
I Believe North Korea! The Korea Times, May 2010