Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) at the Claremont Colleges is an organization that seeks to bring awareness to the issues faced by people living under the rule of the North Korean regime. It is part of a larger international non-profit of the same name that has focused on rescuing North Korean refugees from Northeast China，many of whom live in hiding and risk repatriation at the hands of the Chinese authorities. Another major goal of LiNK is to change the dominant narratives that are disseminated in the mainstream media on North Korea and its people. It was this dimension of LiNK’s mission that inspired Julie Kim CMC ’17 to start a Claremont chapter of the organization. “I think there is a tendency in the media to focus too much on politics,” says Kim regarding coverage of North Korea. “There should be more emphasis on how we can empower the North Korean people.”
While many students in Claremont may have been taught to see the North Korean problem through the lenses of international politics or nuclear nonproliferation, Kim sees it primarily as a human rights issue. She also believes that it is important for the international community to view North Koreans not as powerless, oppressed people, but as agents of bottom-up change in their country.
Keighley Overbay HMC ’17 expressed similar sentiments when talking about her motivation for joining LiNK at the Claremont Colleges. She describes how, instead of merely pitying the people of North Korea, LiNK brought a refreshing perspective to the scene by appreciating their strength.
“I think LiNK really embodies that attitude by focusing on the citizens and their stories, which are really important to understand and help the people from that country,” said Overbay.
However, even as organizations like LiNK seek to empower North Koreans at the grassroots, the situation for the North Korean people remains undeniably harsh. Currently, the Kim regime punishes three generations of a dissident’s family members for “political crimes” committed against the state. Korean refugee outflow has fallen since the rise of Kim Jong Un, indicating a crackdown on defectors in the last few years. Those who do manage to escape to neighboring China often become victims of sex trafficking or deportation. Once beyond North Korean borders, the typical refugee faces a 2,500km journey along a modern underground railroad to Southeast Asia where their resettlement either South Korea or the U.S. is arranged. Due to the highly secretive nature of their work, LiNK Field Coordinators, who are responsible for refugee rescue, do not have their names or photos listed on the LiNK website. As a result of the logistical challenges of arranging such a rescue, it currently costs LiNK an estimated $3,000 USD to rescue a single refugee.
Still, Claremont Colleges LiNK Chapter President Julie Kim remains confident that the Claremont community can make important contributions to the North Korean cause. Already, the organization has hosted a speaking event as part of LiNK’s Jamadang Tour aiming to educate the public about North Korean millennials who have begun subverting the North Korean regime through their use of the black market. With further fundraising, the Claremont chapter of LiNK plans to organize future events, and possibly even fund a refugee rescue. As Kim points out, the cumulative effect of individual contributions can make a significant impact.
“LiNK recently started a campaign to rescue 200 refugees,” says Kim. “It is only through individuals like us that this kind of change is made possible.”
Liberty in North Korea at the Claremont Colleges meets every Monday at 9pm at International Place. For more information, contact Julie Kim at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image Sources: NASA, LiNK
LiNK event this Sunday: