The Korea Herald


‘Save My Friend’ campaign seeks global support

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 29, 2012 - 16:58

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 Activist group hopes to collect 1 million online signatures

Along the cold, rough streets of Seoul, some 40 solemn-looking people marched barefoot for an hour-and-a-half this week, chanting their desperate plea ― “Save my friends! Don’t send them back to North Korea.”

Their march that ended at the Chinese Embassy after having passed the Japanese Embassy and Seoul’s Foreign Ministry came amid mounting public criticism here of Beijing for forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees.

“Our friends caught there (in China) are going thorough great pain, whereas we are comfortable with our lives and enjoy a lot of luxuries, living with freedom here. We took our shoes off to convey our heartfelt message that we are sharing their pains together,” said David Kim, who led the march.

Kim, 26, is not a defector himself. But he has put himself at the vanguard of the “Save My Friend” campaign as a sister of his close friend is now held in China with the possibility of forcible repatriation.

Since Kim and two other friends launched the campaign two weeks ago, they have been collecting signatures from people all around the world online ( to drum up international support for their cause.

They hope to collect 1 million signatures to deliver to the U.N. Security Council, and U.S., Russian, Japanese and Chinese embassies in Seoul to urge them to help address the issue of the defectors facing harsh punishments when sent back.

As of Wednesday, the number of signatures reached nearly 160,000.

“China, we don’t want to pressure you. We just want to encourage you and say that we are trying to just share with you the value of life and help these friends come home safely,” said Kim.
Activists call on China not to forcibly repatriate North Korean defectors during a rally organized by some 100 civic groups near the Chinese Consulate in Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap News) Activists call on China not to forcibly repatriate North Korean defectors during a rally organized by some 100 civic groups near the Chinese Consulate in Busan on Wednesday. (Yonhap News)

“If you send them back, the punishment for being (what China calls) illegal immigrants should not be death or concentration camps for years of harsh labor. Just send them to a different country. They don’t even have to come to Korea. Save their lives, my friends.”

Kim’s campaign drew keen attention after media reports here that more than 80 defectors were at the risk of repatriation with some of them having already been deported back to the repressive state.

The North has reportedly warned of “annihilation of the three generations” of a family with any member caught defecting. But China has stuck to its repatriation pact with the North, saying that the defectors from the impoverished state are not categorized as refugees, but as “economic migrants” to be returned.

Park Moses, one of the three spearheading the signature collection campaign, expressed concern that should the defectors be sent back, they may be executed as an “example” that will be used to threaten other North Koreans mulling defection.

“When I was 16, I saw three people executed right before my eyes ― one for stealing a pig, another for stealing a cow and the other for stealing a factory machine and selling it to buy rice. The North executed them to set an example,” said Park in his early 30s.

“With the new leader Kim Jong-un at the helm, should they be deported, the North is very likely to kill them as an example of the consequence defectors will face, just like the three I witnessed.”

Leaving behind his family, Park crossed the border into China in 1997, “looking for freedom to do what his heart tells him to do.” He entered the South in 2005 via Vietnam and Cambodia after leading a “slave-like” life in China for about two years.

“I was fed up with the fact that I could not move freely, could not listen to music I liked. That is why I defected,” he said.

“While hiding in China, my life was like a slave. I was a shepherd there. Every morning, I had to prepare water for my lord to wash his face with. Every night, I had to wash his feet and massage them. Two years later, I fled him.”

While looking at the growing number of foreign people joining their campaign to save “our parents, siblings and friends,” Park said that it is “sad” South Koreans have not paid sufficient attention to the issue.

“This is our issue that we, Koreans, together have to tackle. I know they are busy, just like me. But it is quite sad that young Koreans have paid less attention to the issue than foreigners.”

In the campaign whose impassioned slogans have been reverberating online and offline around the world in recent weeks, many foreigners here have also participated with vigor.

“I am begging with you (North Korea) for the sake of human life. Every person is valuable and has a worth in himself or herself,” said Kara Everett, an international school teacher here.

Presently, more than 50,000 North Korean refugees are estimated to be hiding in parts of China. Over the last five years, more than 2,500 defectors made it to South Korea each year, with last year’s figure at 2,737.

By Song Sang-ho (