Danny Lee stood on the banks of the Tumen River. It was a dark winter night. Snow covered the iced-over river.
His steps were tentative at first. He knew the dangers of being captured while trying to cross the border from North Korea into China. He could be shot on sight by Chinese guards, or sent back home to be made an example of.
Urgency set in, he needed to get to cover, and quickly. His slow-paced walk turned into a sprint. Within minutes, he was on the Chinese side of the river, but the danger was not over yet.
Danny’s story is a familiar one to North Korean refugees making their escape across the Tumen River to escape one of the most isolated countries in the world. Every year, thousands of refugees illegally escape from oppressive Kim Jong-un regime.
Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is an organization dedicated to helping North Koreans defectors by giving them food and shelter and even finding them new places to live. LiNK came to the College to share their message with students.
“We’re here to change the perception of North Korea from the politics to the people,” said Greg Meyer, a LiNK traveling representative.
Meyer and his group travel throughout North America, showing documentaries to college and high school students to help them understand the crisis in North Korea. Danny is one of the examples they use in order to show people what is going on in one of the most closed-off regions in the world.
North Korea is known for being one of the most oppressive governments in the world. Citizens are taught to see their leaders as gods. During the mid ’90s, the economy crashed, causing nation-wide starvation that continues to this day.
“I remember being so hungry I didn’t even have the energy to leave the house,” said Danny, who escaped in 2005 to China. He was later found by LiNK and they were able to fly him to the United States to start his new life with his mother. Danny now works as a photo journalist.
“Growing up in America, you only see one certain perspective about North Korea,” said LiNK member Unis Kwon.
Much of the focus on North Korea in the media is often geared toward their nuclear weapons program.
“When North Korea is in the news here, the focus is always on weapons, violence or riding military power,” said junior history major Ashley Isola. “The people themselves, who are struggling to survive within their own nation, are rarely mentioned.”
The goal of LiNK is not only to bring refugees to safety but also to launch a social media campaign to spread awareness. They are seeking 50,000 signatures to prove that there is national interest in the cause.
Once they get enough signatures, LiNK will try to break into the mainstream media.
“We’re going to lobby the media in an online protest, the likes they have never seen before,” said Meera Kaushik, an Australian born member of the group.
So far, LiNK has been able to rescue and relocate 58 refugees. They estimate that there are between 30,000 to 50,000 refugees still living illegally in China with the possibility of being sent back.
“Until all people are free, none of us are,” Danny said.