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The Blue & Gray Press | May 20, 2018

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North Korean Activists Aim to SHIFT Outside Views

By BRITTANY VITNER

On Oct. 4, the room typically reserved for Cheap Seats was filled with students watching a documentary created by the group Liberty in North Korea, referred to as LiNK.

The event was sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Asian Student Association (ASA).

According to their website, LiNK is an organization working to redefine “North Korea by focusing on the people, while rescuing and providing resettlement support to North Korean refugees and pursuing an end to the North Korea crisis.”

Their campaign is titled SHIFT and hopes to do just that- to shift the commonly held image of North Korea from nuclear warheads and an unwieldy regime to the people who suffer under a terrible government- a people who are in need.

LiNK gave a summary of Korean history, from its beginning to its present-day status, including North Korea’s transition to a dictatorship.

This was followed by an explanation of the current plight of North Koreans: a poor populace at the mercy of its government, sometimes treated to political prisoner camps better recognized as still-active siblings of Nazi concentration camps.

During the documentary, accounts were given of a LiNK volunteer group who worked to bring a group of North Korean refugees from China to South Korea. The volunteers discussed the event and their reactions.

The refugees also discussed the family situations they left behind, including parents, siblings and children.

They spoke about what they looked forward to once they were out of China and out of North Korea’s reach.

Perhaps what was most shocking was listening to these horrible things and knowing that I had never even been aware of them.

We live in a country where time and attention are considered better spent on Kim Kardashian’s choice in Halloween costume, the divorces of pop stars, the questionable racism of PB and J sandwiches and a current, nonstop smear-fest between two competitors for the presidency, than on concentration camps in Asia.

North Korea is not a topic many tend to be very familiar with. We learned about the outcomes of World War II, the rise of China and Japan and the Korean War, but it is not something kept in mind when looking at the daily news, partially due to the North Korean government’s choice to cut their country off from the rest of the world.

According to LiNK’s website, other countries aid this problem by focusing not on the people at stake, but on “nuclear weapons, international politics, and [North Korea’s] leadership.”

North Koreans are not able to communicate outside of their country, since technology such as radio, internet and mobile phones are made unavailable to the citizens.

As a result, many outside of North Korea are uninformed of the situation inside the country, and those living in the country live in a knowledge bubble, cut off from most of the world by their government.

Some live in political prisons where they are not treated as people. Most live in intense poverty.

Some escape by heading to China, which is easier than going to South Korea, a country that sits on the other side of the most heavily guarded area in the world, the Demilitarized Zone near the 38th parallel.

Even after they escape to China, refugees face intense prejudice, language and cultural barriers, and the Chinese government, on good terms with the North Korean government, searches for them. If they are caught, they could be sent back to North Korea and be imprisoned with the possibility of torture and execution, as well as repercussions directed toward their families. They have to leave China as soon as they can, with hopes of getting safely to countries like South Korea or the U.S.

LiNK wants more people to be aware of this, and to look at North Korea’s people. Not just its repressive government. There are people who need help.

LiNK is always looking for volunteers, aid and, as always, more people to spread the word.

Many members of the ASA leadership were very strongly in support of this event.

ASA club treasurer Alexandra Swords stated, “It exposes a culture that’s been neglected. As humans, as fellow people, we should not just let this go without a fight.”

Most of all, this is the kind of story we should see on the news. A story informing people about what is going on in the world, what problems we should be aware of and what we need to do to fix this.