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Casey Lartigue Jr., a founder of the nonprofit (TNKR) Teach North Korean Refugees, compared China’s repatriation to slavery in the American South.
“In the American South it was illegal to help slaves who were trying to escape, and it’s illegal in China to help North Korean refugees do the same,” said Lartigue in an interview with The Politic. “There were bonuses and awards given to people who helped catch American slaves. In the same way, in China people get rewards for catching or giving information to help catch refugees.”
“It was an outrage what happened in 19th century America. And it’s an outrage what’s happening today,” he said.
Lartigue’s nonprofit, Teach North Korean Refugees, focuses on teaching refugees English skills, so they can more confidently enter the job market. Lartigue explained how he identified a need for educational programs after first becoming involved with the effort to help North Koreans.
“Look, the escape is just the beginning of the battle,” he said. “Getting out of North Korea is tough, but so is coming over to a brand new society.”
Some refugees have gone on to write memoirs, give speeches, and help others gain the confidence to lead meaningful lives in a new place. Yonmi Park, who left North Korea in 2007, authored In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom.
“One thing Yomni would say often is, ‘People need to stop treating the North Korea issue as some joke, where there’s a crazy dictator and brainwashed people. They turn it into a caricature. They need to realize that many people are struggling because of the dictators here. Our focus should be on helping them,’” Lartigue recalled.
Activists like Park, Lartigue, and Scholte all stressed the importance of reshaping the narrative of the North Korean issue from one focused on the Kim dictatorship to one focused on the people’s efforts to improve their lives after escape. Before they can achieve liberty for themselves and their country, North Korean refugees need those removed from the conflict to listen. The challenges in North Korea may be enormous, but they are not insurmountable.
Quoted in the article:
* Kim Jeong-ah, Suzanne Scholte, Hwang Hyun-Jeong, Greg Scarlatoiu, Casey Lartigue Jr., Dr. Go Myung-hyung, Sokeel J. Park.