By Cassidy Riley, The Daily Iowan
While the security threat North Korea poses is often discussed, little is known about the severe human-rights crisis the country is suffering.
This is something the organization Liberty in North Korea, commonly referred to as LiNK, wants to change. The University of Iowa LiNK rescue team hosted its biggest event of the semester Wednesday night. Representatives from LiNK showed a documentary created by the non-governmental organization entitled “The People’s Crisis.” They also presented their Shift campaign, in which their goal is to change the way the media talk about North Korea, moving away from military issues to more humanitarian concerns.
“LiNK’s goal is to raise awareness of the crisis of North Korea and help the refuges settle in other countries,” said Jenny Chun, president of the UI’s chapter of LiNK.
Chun said many refugees attempt to leave North Korea because of the lack of rights and food in the country. They often flee to China, and if caught, they are extradited back to North Korea, where they are placed in prison camps for the rest of their lives. The next three generations after them also live and die in these prison camps.
“I was so shocked [when I heard this],” Chun said. “This is something we should let people know. People think it’s an evil country but they don’t know any more detail.”
Philippe Lazaro, a LiNK representative, said a modern underground railroad has developed in China and through this, LiNK is able to send rescue teams to locations where refugees hide and bring them to a shelter in Southeast Asia.
It costs $2,500 to save just one refugee and therefore, they are constantly trying to raise money for the cause through fundraisers. Chun said in the spring, the UI rescue team hosts a basketball tournament and charges a fee to participate. Last year, the tournament raised $400 and $300 of it was sent to LiNK to help with the refugees.
Lazaro said while raising funds is important, Wednesday night’s event was primarily about altering public perception.
“It’s in recognition of the power the media has to impact public perception of an issue,” he said.
In attempt to encourage the media to shift their focus, Lazaro said, they handed out copies of LiNK’s manifesto for students to sign during the event. LiNK will email those students videos and articles about the human rights issues in North Korea for them to share virally. He said the hope is it will create a viral revolution, calling for more media attention to the human rights issues in North Korea.
“The hope is the more you know, the more you’re driven to act on it,” Lazaro said.
Out of the crowd of students who attended the event, many said they were attending out of curiosity.
“I don’t really know much about the subject, so I thought I might as well take this opportunity to enlighten myself about this part of the world,” UI junior Ethan Augustine said.
Sophomore Buyun Jeong said that where she comes from in South Korea, there is a town of North Korean refugees, and although she lives so close, she has little information about the region.
“I just have some curiosity about why they ran away,” Jeong said.
Brian Lai, a UI associate professor of political science, said the media’s focus is often on the military threat North Korea poses because the U.S. government is most concerned about it.
“The media tend to focus on what the government focuses on,” Lai said.