Democratic People's Republic of Korea/South Korea: Aiding traumatized refugees
In recent years, governments have attempted to close escape routes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Mongolia and Russia and have dismantled many of the clandestine networks that had helped those fleeing North Korea.
Since 2003, when a crackdown made it almost impossible to cross China to reach a third country, some North Koreans have tried to enter foreign embassies and international schools to obtain asylum. However, reinforced security around these international institutions has made them more difficult to enter. As a result, fewer and fewer refugees manage to reach a country other than China, where they are considered illegal and hunted like criminals.
After years of assisting North Korean refugees in China and other countries, by providing shelter, clothes, food and medical assistance, MSF is now focusing its activities on providing psychological support to refugees who have reached South Korea, where some 6,500 North Korean refugees live, primarily in Seoul, the capital city.
An estimated 100,000 to 300,000 North Koreans are hiding in China. Some are waiting to find a way to escape to another country, but the majority are working to make enough money to survive at home. If they are discovered, they are arrested and imprisoned in North Korea, considered traitors to the country. MSF is now indirectly providing medical support to some of these refugees in China too.
Since 2003, MSF has assisted North Korean refugees upon their arrival in South Korea, helping them to overcome the recurrent trauma they faced under the violent regime and during their escape from it. In December 2004, an MSF team first gained access to the state-run transition center of Hanawon, where refugees are placed for three months after their arrival in South Korea.
From January to August 2005, MSF psychologists began therapy with 90 new patients. The stories the patients have told MSF staff reveal unimaginable suffering, the loss of loved ones, violence and fears of an unknown future. The team also intervenes in welfare centers in the capital and in a suburban town that is home to a community of North Koreans.
MSF worked in North Korea from 1995 to 1998 and has worked with North Korean refugees since 1998.
INTERNATIONAL STAFF 2 (based in Seoul, South Korea) NATIONAL STAFF 6