Documentary focuses on Korean refugee crisis
Along a dim mud path in southeast China, a van roams around. A figure gets off after a while, scanning a remote village late in the night, when only some sparse dog barks can be heard.
This dramatic scene is the beginning of not a novel but of “The People’s Crisis,” a documentary on North Korean refugees, shown by the Brandeis chapter of the student organization Liberty in North Korea on Friday night.
Following the tense scene of rescuers searching for recently-defected refugees, the documentary moves on to show the entire process of rescuing North Korean refugees, from planning in LiNK Headquarters in Los Angeles to traveling with refugees across China through Southeast Asia, approximately 3,500 miles.
“Lack of human rights” and “famine” are among the top motives for escaping North Korea, as indicated by the survivors’ oral accounts in the documentary. “If I get caught now, I would be sent to North Korea and either get beaten to death or imprisoned for life,” said Minsung, an 18-year-old teenager who fled from North Korea alone.
Minsung addressed the camera with a slightly trembling voice, but when he recalled his parents feeding him an extra spoon of porridge while they themselves still suffered from starvation, he sobbed. His cry of “[One] only lives on this earth once, so I want to live like a human being” came up again in a discussion about human rights after the screening.
Another subject which triggered a heated debate after the screening was “woman trafficking” on China’s border with North Korea. Due to the previous one-child policy, there are fewer women in China, which makes women refugees more vulnerable to trafficking because of their uncertain legal status.
Rie Ota ’18, the social chair of the Brandeis branch of Liberty in North Korea, pointed out that female refugees were not necessarily unaware of the danger of being trafficked prior to defecting from North Korea. After weighing the pros and cons, many would still rather flee than be tied up under the regime, she said.
As part of the ’DEIS Impact festival for social justice, the event Being a Refugee, Being a Rescuer focused on the social justice and human rights aspect of the North Korean refugee crisis.
However, this issue, as Brandeis LiNK President Justin Sunwoo Kim ’17 stated, is not only a social problem but also an international political challenge, one far more complicated than merely a refugee affair. The origin of the conflict can be traced back to the split of Korea in 1948 and the complex notion of unity that has existed since the Korean Peninsula was unified in 668 A.D.
When it comes to how the rescuers in the film operate, “Courage [is] always a good start,” Kim remarked. He mentioned Ryan Downer, the director of “The People’s Crisis,” who has devoted himself to helping the refugees fleeing from North Korea. Downer was once jailed for six months in China for rescuing North Korean defectors and constantly faces other dangers and injuries throughout his efforts. “But the courage doesn’t have to be like that,” noted Kim, “as long as you are willing to act.”