Democracy Soup

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Mike Kim, for working to get freedom for North Koreans to win Wings of Justice

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Originally published on on July 15, 2009

Mike Kim


Imagine an underground railroad similar to the one in the mid-1800s in the United States. But instead of hundreds of miles, imagine that the route is 6,000 miles long, and the journey can be as much about food as it is freedom.

This is no mythical adventure, but the sad reality of those trying to escape from North Korea. And one person who is there to help them is Mike Kim.

Kim, a Korean-American, founded Crossing Borders in 2003 to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korean refugees. Kim spent four years helping and listening to the stories of what life was like in North Korea. Kim is also the author of “Escaping North Korea: Defiance and Hope in the World’s Most Repressive Country,” where he talks about the complex paths to freedom for these North Koreans striving for a better life.

In the 6,000 mile journey that stretches from Pyongyang, North Korea to Bangkok, Thailand, their worries don’t stop just because they are out of North Korea. Much of the journey involves crossing through China, which as Kim notes, has “zero tolerance,” returning caught North Koreans back to their homeland to face severe punishment and dishing out harsh penalties for their own citizens who give aid to fleeing North Koreans.

“To feed a North Korean refugee is punishable by imprisonment and a fine,” Kim told Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” on June 30.

In the interview, Kim noted that the Chinese PSB — their equivalent of the FBI — was chasing after him. He also had to worry about North Korean assassins, since he said there were documented cases where they abducted and assassinated workers such as him at the border.

This isn’t just another book tour; in many cases, this is the first time people have heard about individual efforts by North Koreans to escape. As much as North Koreans don’t hear about the rest of the world, we don’t really hear much about the stories of real North Koreans, and the abuses they have suffered under Kim Jong Il.

Their silent world becomes silent for us; Mike Kim is working to make sure we hear their cries for freedom.

And those stories don’t get better, especially for North Korean women; once they cross the border into China, they run into human traffickers.

As the Underground Railroad inspired other slaves to escape in the United States, word of North Koreans who have made it to freedom can inspire those still in the country.

Kim’s stories help shine light on one of the last bastions of darkness on the planet. We figure that the world is getting smaller with expanded communications, yet for North Koreans, they are sheltered from the rest of the world. And yet, it’s really good to know that some are trying to get out, and they are getting help.

While Kim is not alone in this fight to bring freedom to these people trapped in a dictatorship, he has served them well within their fight, and by coming back to the Western world to share their stories with us. For his part in the process, and also for telling us their stories, Mike Kim is this week’s Wings of Justice award winner.


Written by democracysoup

July 15, 2009 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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