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The Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University and the Economics Club hosted representatives from Liberty in North Korea on Monday night.
Liberty in North Korea is a global grassroots movement and nonprofit organization that works with the North Korean people as they overcome the struggles of seeking out a better life outside of North Korea.
“The North Korean people are just like you and I,” said Sarah Bauman, a LiNK representative. “They are 24 million people with hopes and dreams and relationships. However, they had the unfortunate luck of being born under one of the most oppressive regimes on the planet today.”
The presentation emphasized the oppression that North Koreans face in their home country every day.
“They are taught that the outside world is full of enemies and threats and that they can only put their faith into their leaders,” Bauman said.
According to LiNK, the average North Korean citizen has no Internet access, cannot make international phone calls and is banned from watching foreign TV or listening to foreign radio.
Escaping the economic and personal oppression is no easy task due to strict punishments that can occur if one is found even criticizing the government.
“If you’re so much as suspected of criticizing the regime, that’s enough to land you and three generations of your family into one of North Korea’s notorious political prison camps,” Bauman said.
LiNK estimates that these camps hold 80,000-100,000 North Korean people.
To escape, many North Koreans choose to travel to the border of North Korea in the southeast, where they can cross into China.
If caught in China, these refugees may be sent back to North Korea or even sold.
Even if a refugee stays in China without being caught, he is subject to the struggles of the language barrier and lack of resources necessary to start a new life.
LiNK provides a way for these refugees to make it to safety and freedom at no cost or conditions.
Its networks cover a 3,000-mile-long stretch from the border of North Korea and China down into Southeast Asia, where, once refugees make it there, they have the choice to resettle in either South Korea or the United States.
“Basically what happens is somebody in North Korea says, ‘OK, I want to escape.’ So they go and they escape totally on their own, because we don’t have any staff in North Korea or in China,” Bauman said.
“We work with Chinese brokers who are already in China working with kind of like an underground railroad system. So once a refugee comes in contact with somebody who is housing North Koreans, they get in touch with the Chinese brokers that we work with.”
LiNK also helps reunite the families of North Koreans who had to leave their families behind when escaping.
Since 2010, LiNK has been able to help 400 refugees find their way to resettlement.
“We’ve built a soft-landing program for refugees for the first two years of their resettlement for things like one-on-one counseling, community gatherings, language and interpretation assistance, as well as emergency medical and financial assistance,” Bauman said.
Stacey Groome, a sophomore political science major from Enterprise, said she went to the event for extra credit for a class and for a better understanding of what North Korea is really like.
“I’m actually South Korean, so I wanted to come to learn about North Korea because I know there are bad things going on there,” Groome said. “I really liked learning about this program, and I’m glad that I know it exists because I’m definitely going to contribute.”
Malavika Nair, assistant professor of economics, reached out to LiNK about coming to speak at Troy during its fall tour.
“I reached out to LiNK to come give this talk because the Johnson Center is very interested in promoting and studying free markets, so we’re very naturally interested in any kind of instance where there is a lack of free markets,” Nair said. “We study the economic and moral foundations of free markets because they have positive outcomes on people’s lives, and we don’t think that these outcomes that you see in North Korea are an accident.
“It’s a definite effect of having that very closed economy which works to completely restrict people’s political and personal freedom, not just their economic freedom, and that’s why you see these poor outcomes and these people who have very low standards of living.”
Bauman said that LiNK hopes to recruit 500 people to become monthly donors and 5,000 people to become part of their online fundraising team this fall.
For more information on LiNK and how to get involved, visit LibertyinNorthKorea.org, or call 310-212-7190.