As you know, for the past 60 years and more the « Land of the Morning Calm » has been cut in two, following a particularly bloody fratricidal war…
Earlier, I was able to travel to North Korea and, despite the constant surveillance by the police, I was able to verify the truth of various reports and hear numerous witness stories from North Korean refugees.
First of all in the hospitals: the situation is critical – no antibiotics, no dressings, not even any soap. To give you just one example, instead of bottles of serum for the transfusions, they use beer bottles filled with boiled sugar water!
I was able to visit some schools. They illustrate the chronic malnutrition of the entire population – with the exception of the apparatchiks of the regime of course! One needs to know that a North Korean child, aged seven, measures on average 20 cm less and weighs 10 kg less than a child in South Korea. The refugees were unanimous in telling me that in North Korea, « you have to bribe some member of the party or of the army in order to obtain basic necessities ». Hence corruption is the order of the day.
I was also surprised not to see any handicapped people… The truth is that the North Korean regime, racist and eugenicist, is obsessed with the notion of racial purity in which those designated « abnormal » have no part. Consequently they are expelled from the major cities.
How to describe this communist regime in a few words? North Korea is a country so closed that no one can enter or move around without a visa… « Including God », as the refugees add with a touch of black humour. The two principal pillars of the repression are, on the one hand, total control over all the movements of the population and on the other, the ignorance of the outside world… So much so that the North Korean refugees who have succeeded in escaping discover to their astonishment a reality that is totally different from what they have been told ever since birth.
They describe all the unbridled Marxist propaganda inflicted on the people in order to make them zombies, submissive to the Communist Party. The dictator is presented as a veritable « god», an idea unfailingly promoted in every speech, in all the teaching, all the information… The Kim dynasty – from grandfather to the grandson currently in power – is the object of a frenetic propaganda, with its 30,000 giant statues and portraits in every town and village and it slogans inscribed on vast billboards on every street and road… The North Koreans are taught to spy on their neighbours and colleagues and denounce one another for any failing in their duty towards the « Great Leader ». After the arrest of the transgressor, the whole neighbourhood and the family are rounded up in order to criticise the transgressions of the supposed delinquent. Then he is either deported, or everybody witnesses to his execution.
Speaking of the deportation camps, this gives me the opportunity to report on the Christian presence in the country. The gathering of witness statements and the observations of Western satellites enable us to estimate the number of persons detained in these veritable concentration camps – anywhere between 100,000 and 200,000 individuals. The brutality of the camp guards is the daily bread of these prisoners, who work 16 hours a day, suffer atrocious tortures, to say nothing of the public executions of those deemed to have been recalcitrant.
Among these « political prisoners » those who suffer the worst treatment are the Christians, since they are regarded as spies, as « anti-revolutionaries of the first class ». According to the regime there are around 13,000 of them, but according to humanitarian organisations there are 20 to 40,000 – and they are singled out for the cruellest treatments of all – crucified, hanged from bridges or trees, drowned, or burnt alive… Some witnesses describe tortures so horrible that decency prevents me from describing them to you…
For the rulers of North Korea every form of religion must be banished – in other words, both Christianity and Buddhism – since, as the Marxist « catechism » tells us, religion is the opium of the people. North Koreans do not know what a Bible is, nor consequently who God is. A few years ago, with great fanfare of propaganda, the government opened a Catholic church, a Protestant temple, and an Orthodox church in the capital – but of course they are nothing but mere showpieces!
Yet despite all this, there is indeed an underground Church in North Korea, which is the object of continued persecution. When I asked North Korean refugees, « Have you heard mention of or have you seen a neighbour arrested for having been caught in the act of praying, either at home or in a secret place? », many people answered in the affirmative. And some information does manage to filter through; for example, two years ago, a pregnant woman aged 33 was arrested in possession of 20 Bibles. She was beaten severely, then hung by her feet in public. In May 2010 some 20 Christians were arrested; they were part of a clandestine church. Three of them were immediately put to death and the rest were deported. It is thought that since 1995 at least 5,000 Christians have been executed, solely because they were praying secretly or distributing Bibles. Many North Koreans have become Christians thanks to the presence of foreign missionaries on the border. It is also known that some American and Canadian pastors of Korean origin are currently imprisoned in the political prisoners’ camps for having helped the refugees.
I met with some refugees in a country bordering on North Korea who, if arrested, risk being forcibly repatriated – which means prison, torture, the camps and death. If they are not repatriated, they risk falling into the hands of criminal organisations which traffic in human organs. Women and young girls risk being kidnapped by gangs and sold to peasants or, still worse, to brothel owners. A young Korean girl can be sold for $800-$1200…
For over 60 years thousands of North Koreans have attempted to escape to a free country, but it is not so easy. They have to pass through China, which refuses to recognise the refugee status of those whom it persists in describing as « illegal immigrants ». Without papers, and therefore clandestine, there are numerous such people, who find work however they are able: ill paid, ill treated, without any rights and at the mercy of their employers…
Willing to extricate these refugees from this impossible situation are the people traffickers, who risk their lives but make sure they’re well paid. They will smuggle people to South Korea if they wish it, or to Canada, or the United States and other countries, via Mongolia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand… To smuggle someone from North Korea to a third country, you need around 4,000 to 5,000 Euros for a false passport, transport, food; to pay the smuggler and the bribes to customs officials and police… And of course such « contracts » are entirely arbitrary, and it can happen that at the last moment the smuggler demands more money.
In my meetings with North Korean refugees I have heard stories that were so unbearable that tears of suffering and shame were pouring from my eyes… How is it possible for human beings to commit such atrocities? How can so many human lives be trampled underfoot in the midst of such total indifference?
And so, as a missionary and as a Catholic priest, I am speaking here on behalf of all those Koreans who for over 60 years have been living one of the the longest Ways of the Cross in human history. I speak on behalf of those who have had an eye torn out, or another organ, without anaesthetic, so that they can be transplanted into rich Chinese, Japanese or others! I am speaking on behalf of all those North Koreans who are victims of the slave traders!
The attempts by these thousands of men, women and children to flee are a fact of major importance, and we need to emphasise the political and diplomatic aspects of it. Unfortunately, the countries closest to North Korea, and also those further afield in Europe or America, are demanding no more than a few changes, in the name of « human rights », without actually challenging the status quo – seemingly for the sake of « maintaining international relations », they tell us – in reality to guarantee a « peace of compromise ». In effect they are postponing indefinitely the liberation of North Korea, and hence also the reunification of the country.
In conclusion, calculating things on a strictly geopolitical basis, the 21 million North Koreans risk having to wait a long time before seeing any radical improvement in their lot… Barring an intervention of God, that is, something we pray for ardently every day for this crucified people.
Merciful Lord Jesus,
I beg you to deliver our North Korean brothers and sisters from the chains that have held them captive now for over 70 years already.
Turn your loving gaze upon this suffering people …
Teach peace to the Korean nation, cut in half, north from south, by a fratricidal war. Help us to contribute to reconciliation and do not let us be carried away by despair.
Good Shepherd, reunite in your arms all our North Korean brothers and sisters, one by one. Envelop them in your tender saving love.
May Our Lady of Fatima bring down the wall of communism and help them to discover the freedom and joy of living as children of God.