Home ANS Reports Decades after Family’s Separation in Korea, Minnesota Businesswoman Focused on Refugees as North Korea Crisis Looms

Decades after Family’s Separation in Korea, Minnesota Businesswoman Focused on Refugees as North Korea Crisis Looms

by ANS Editor

By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net)

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (ANS – Sept. 6, 2017) — A Minnesota woman whose father was killed by current North Korean dictator Kim Jung Un’s grandfather (Kim Il-Sung) is asking for help in her effort to help North Korean refugees as the military and political crisis continues on the Korean Peninsula.

mi north korea hyon kim 09 06 2017Hyon (Yahn) Kim is a former University of Minnesota regent who has family still trapped in North Korea. From her home in the Twin Cities suburbs, Hyon Kim runs a charity aimed at helping North Korean refugees escape the regime, according to Esme Murphy in a report for CBS-affiliate TV station WCCO.

Hyon Kim says she has never been more scared not only for those her own family members and millions of others who live under the North Korean regime, but also for those in South Korea where anxiety is mounting over a nuclear threat.

In a comfortable, Twin Cities home, the 71-year-old grandmother can’t stop watching the news from Korea. “I don’t sleep at night lately,” she said.

Hyon Kim has lived the nightmare of her family being destroyed by the North Korean regime.  “Kim Jong Un’s grandfather killed my father,” she said.

In the chaos of 1950s Cold War Korea, her family was separated. She was only 4 years old and was left behind in South Korea while the rest of her family made the fateful mistake of going to the north.

She made her way to Minnesota in the 1970s and was allowed back to see her family in North Korea once in 1990. It was then she learned of her father’s execution by the North Korean regime. “In the middle of the night, they told me they killed my father,” Hyon Kim said.

In the years since, she learned that her mother and one of her brothers died of starvation in the North. Her life in the U.S. led to a degree from the University of Minnesota, a successful business and being made a U of M Regent. She even met with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton – but the people of Korea are never far from her mind. “I think it is a very dangerous time,” she said.

That’s why she formed the charity Freedom North Korean Refugees of Minnesota to try and help those who have escaped the north to either South Korea or China. She said: “My focus is freedom for North Korean refugees.”

North Korean executionHyon Kim says her biggest concern is for an estimated 300,000 North Korean refugees living underground in China. She says if these refugees are discovered by Chinese authorities, they are often returned to North Korea to face certain death.

Hyon Kim left her native Korea decades ago, but a childhood marred by the country’s division has continued to haunt the Twin Cities entrepreneur, according to an October 2015 (Minneapolis) Star Tribune newspaper report.

In recent years, Kim’s dramatic story has fueled an uncommon campaign to help North Korean refugees, particularly those who face exploitation and sexual assault in China. That campaign culminated at the University of Minnesota in a recent symposium that highlighted firsthand accounts of refugees, and which challenged the United States to do more to address their plight.

“I wanted to do something for my homeland,” said Kim. “It’s a very slow movement, but I am breaking the ice.”

Kim was 4 in 1951 when her father fled Seoul for the North. The U.S. military was advancing on the city, and he feared he would be targeted as a well-known leftist intellectual. He took her mother and brothers with him, but Kim was visiting an aunt in the countryside. She said her father left a note promising to return for her. But the border between North and South Korea was closed, and he never did.

Kim’s aunt raised her and adopted her. In 1970, Kim came to Minnesota with her then-husband, an American she had met while working for the U.S. military in Seoul. She went on to run several businesses, including a St. Paul civil engineering firm, and served on the U’s Board of Regents.

Kim Il sung leading troopsIn 1990, she traveled to North Korea and briefly reunited with her family. She was eager to confront her father about abandoning her, only to find out he had been killed in a North Korean purge of intellectuals in the 1950s.

In recent years, Kim has channeled her complicated feelings about her homeland into an effort to better understand the situation of North Korean defectors. The experience brought her healing, she said. She traveled to South Korea three times to meet with North Koreans who fled by way of China.

Because China doesn’t recognize these defectors as refugees and deports them, they are at the mercy of the men they pay to help them cross into the country. Hence the well-publicized accounts of rape, sex trafficking and economic exploitation.

“I heard so many terrible stories,” Kim said.

North Koreans able to continue on to Thailand or Laos can apply for resettlement to the United States, but the process takes years. Through the recent symposium, Kim hoped to advocate for speedier resettlement and more U.S. pressure on China to recognize North Korean refugees. She would like to see North Korean arrivals in Minnesota, where she notes many Hmong refugees have thrived since families first arrived in the 1980s.

Eric Schwartz, dean of the U’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and an authority on refugee issues, said the treatment of North Korean defectors in China has failed to get the international attention that it merits.

“The human rights situation in North Korea is dire,” said Schwartz, who spoke at the symposium. “It has caused so many people to flee into a very precarious situation across the border with China.”

To learn more about the symposium and Kim’s work, visit www.freedomrefugeesmn.org  .

Freedom for North Korean Refugees Minnesota is a Minnesota based non-profit organization working toward the safe and humane resettlement of North Korean refugees in the United States. Freedom for North Korean Refugees Minnesota is pioneering an initiative to educate about the plight of North Korean refugees and to promote relationships and policies that provide for safe, welcoming, and expedite settlement in the United States. 

The group’s website says an estimated 200,000 North Korean defectors have escaped the poverty and oppression of their government, hoping to reach safety in South Korea. To do so, these stateless people must undertake hazardous treks through China and other countries.

Many never make it across miles of Gobi desert, mountains and similarly treacherous terrain for even a chance at diplomatic immunity.

Kim Jong un with military useWomen and children make up to an estimated 70 percent of North Koreans seeking exile. All are vulnerable to opportunists, most—maybe all the females among them—are forced into human trafficking, slavery and other crimes. If caught by Chinese authorities, these refugees have no claim to diplomatic asylum. They are deported immediately to North Korea, where they often face torture or imprisonment.

Despite all this, the world community has done little to provide these refugees resettlement.   Freedom for North Korean Refugees of Minnesota wants to change that.

In October 2015, the charity collaborated with a number of Twin Cities universities and colleges, non-profits, and influential U.S. and South Korean political and social figures to be a part of a symposium addressing these important issues. The group produced a powerful program that spread awareness and understanding of the human rights issues of North Korean refugees and sparked an effort to establish long overdue solutions.

Cross-cultural Partnership

These engaged leaders from both the US and Korea came together for a captivating and catalyzing effort to mobilize behind this cause.  The symposium was hosted by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs.  

A number of North Korean refugees were among the remarkable group of Koreans who have agreed to come and share their stories.  Additionally, subject matter experts from academic, human rights, diplomacy, media social services, faith organizations, and the arts joined them to inform attendees about the facts and current status of this complex international issue. Together they illuminated the realities of refugees’ lives in China, giving a vivid glimpse into the desperation people face when they have no country and no legal rights.  

Unmet Need

The website stated: “With your help, we can engage community partners in a dialogue that will go beyond this symposium and transform into meaningful outcomes in our communities.  The result will be a way to provide desperately-needed support and aid for safe and humane resettlement of North Korean refugees in Minnesota and elsewhere in the U.S.”

Hyon said: “I loved having the opportunity to share my story with this community, and appreciated all participation in our October 19 symposium, where we explored the role of community partners in depth, as together we create a workable structure that can offer humane resettlement and follow up support to North Korean refugees who choose Minnesota as their home.”

Hyon Kim – President, may be contacted at: hyon.kim@freedomrefugeesmn.org.

Connect with the group on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/freedomrefugeesmn

TELEPHONE: (612) 270-6128.  MAILING ADDRESS: PO Box 131434, Roseville, MN 55113.

Photo captions: 1) Hyon Kim. (Credit: CBS) 2) An execution in North Korea. 3) Propaganda picture of Kim Il-sung leading his North Korean troops. 3) Kim Jong Un with North Korean soldiers.4) Michael Ireland.

Michael Ireland small useAbout the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister, and an award-winning local cable-TV program host/producer who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. You may follow Michael on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/MichaelIrelandMediaMissionary.com   and on Twitter at @Michael_ASSIST. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael  

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