Letters to the Editor: Americans can help North Koreans

Editor’s note: As part of their study of communism, 8th-graders at Middlebury Union Middle School wrote letters to the editor about life in North Korea and what Americans can do. Here is one of those letters; we expect to run a few more next week.
A traveler is crossing the Tumen River. A shifty guide, her only companion, whispers orders constantly, while frantically looking for armed border guards. The only reason this traveler is crossing through this place is to escape her government, which rules with an iron fist and lets its people starve to death. Of course, with only the clothes on her back and a few possessions of her past life, the traveler is not likely to survive out here either. 
While this specific scenario is fictional, it perfectly emulates the plight of North Koreans who flee from their motherland. The North Korean regime stamps it’s people to the ground, and many who try to leave are forced into major dangers in the outside world. Still, there are ways the situation can be made better for them, and all involve you helping.
Of course, to help, you must have information on what you are helping against. The North Korean government rules with an iron fist over its people, controlling every aspect of their lives. As seen in the BBC “Inside North Korea” documentary, the citizens of North Korea are forced into constant poverty by the dictatorship, with some people even forced to scrounge around in mud for food due to being unable to purchase it.
The documentary also shows that the North Korean regime has a tight control over what people read, hear, and can say, and use several forms of propaganda to brainwash its citizens so that they only agree with what the dictatorship wishes. If any dissatisfaction is discovered, then the citizens found out are subject to prison camps, torture, and even execution. As you can see, there is plenty of reason for the people to leave North Korea, which is what they do, becoming defectors.
Still, the defectors face major dangers when in the outside world as well. There are always the hazards of the elements, and with only a small amount of possessions, the refugees are ill-prepared. A very ominous case of this is seen in the PBS documentary “A Tale Of Two Heavens: Escaping North Korea”, where a South Korean journalist team discovers a frozen body of a North Korean woman on the Tumen/Yalu River, showing how bad the outside exposure is on the defectors. 
These people also risk being returned to North Korea, as also detailed in the PBS documentary, where China and Laos will repatriate defectors back to North Korea, where they face extreme punishment. The defectors also run risks of being fooled into underground slavery operations, and, if they do successfully reach a safe place, they have an extremely hard time supporting themselves. Sometimes the outside dangers are far too much for them alone to resist.
The plight North Korean refugees suffer is not a totally irresistible one. If you help these people, you can lessen the burden they carry during and after their escape. However, you may ask yourself, how can someone on one side of the world help someone on the other? Well, with the wonderful thing that is the internet, you can actually do a lot. 
When you get in contact with groups like the LFNKR, who rescue and support North Korean defectors, you can learn a lot of information about things like donating. As reads on the LFNKR website, “If you would like to assist with our rescue operations, we invite you to donate towards the ongoing rescue missions.” With the added money, these nonprofit support missions are able to provide better quality rescue and support operations for the refugees. 
The website also contains other details on how to help. For example, “If you have friends or colleagues who are interested in North Korean issues, why not organize a study group, or invite speakers in?” As you can see, there are plenty of ways to aid these people. Be it raising awareness, or supporting agencies that aid these people, you have the power to help. And when you have the power to help, you are obligated to help.
The problems North Koreans face are very real, and very dangerous. Refugees from the North Korean regime run several risks in the outside world. It is your obligation to these people to support them, via raising awareness or donating to support groups that rescue the defectors.  With your help, the traveler crossing the Tumen River can have a better life.
Tom Nevins
MUMS Grade 8
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