Student fights to save North Korean refugees

By Jill Houser |
Photo contributed by Angi Welsch

Flagler College sophomore Veronica Spake is trying to save the lives of 300,000 North Korean refugees.

Spake, a Liberty in North Korea volunteer, showed the film “Seoul Train” to Flagler and Good News Church. The documentary shows several North Koreans’ life-threatening (and sometimes life-taking) journeys out of the country. Spake hoped that students’ hearts would break like hers did last year.

Last year, LiNK, a non-profit organization devoted to helping the North Korean human rights crisis, showed “Crossing” at Flagler. Spake was shocked. “When the world found out about Hitler’s concentration camps everyone said ‘never again’ but it’s happening right now in North Korea and nothing is being done to change it,” she said.

According to UNICEF, under the communist rule of Kim Jong-il, many North Koreans are barely surviving in sub-human conditions, with little or no rights at all. No one is allowed to voice their opinions. Woman are sold into sex trafficking. Children are forced into slave labor and 40% are “chronically malnourished.”

According to the “Seoul Train” film, North and South Koreans once looked physically the same. Today, North Koreans are five to six inches shorter due to not being allowed to farm or buy food. The famine in the ’90s made conditions progressively worse.

Several hundred thousand North Koreans today have risked their lives to escape from their dictator’s rule and travel the “underground network” to China and Southeast Asia.

Organizations like LiNK, give North Korean refugees hope. Spake spent her summer volunteering with the organization at their headquarters in Los Angeles. “I lived out of a van for six weeks and traveled around southern California with two teammates,” Spake said.

Spake and the two other college students told anyone who would listen about the crisis. They traveled to churches, schools and cafes.

LiNK is expected to come back to Flagler in the spring of 2010. They are currently working on a campaign called “The 100” and the goal is to resettle 100 refugees. “The problem with this is the funds it takes to resettle—approximately $2, 500 per refugee,” Spake said.

LiNK has safe houses or underground shelters in China and Southeast Asia that North Koreans can run to. But sometimes, in China for example, the government has come and forced the refugees back to North Korea. Getting caught is the refugee’s worst nightmare. It means being sentenced to death or life in prison.

The refugees will be stuck in the shelters until LiNK can raise the funds to resettle them in places like Europe or the United States. Spake encourages people to check out the LiNK website.

The website helps to further educate people on the situation. It shows how to get involved with LiNK and provides ways to help — by buying T-shirts or DVDs.

“In short, all money donated goes straight to saving lives,” Spake said.

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