Ahead of Beijing Olympics, the international group Justice for North Korea hopes to press China to accept North Korean refugees as defectors, not migrants.
Seoul, South Korea
In the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, a group of activists hope to embarrass China into changing its policy toward North Korean refugees – accepting them as defectors from a harsh regime rather than returning them to North Korea as "economic migrants."
"It's a good time to show China cannot be given a free pass for forced repatriation to North Korea," says Park Ji Hye, the international coordinator for a group called Justice for North Korea.
One way the group hopes to convey its message is through repeated screenings of a new South Korean film, "Crossing," which is the first cinematic attempt to address the tragedy of North Korea's refugees. The film recounts the story of a father who makes it to South Korea, leaving his ill wife to die in her village while his son meets an untimely end fleeing through Mongolia's Gobi Desert in the hopes of finding him.
To promote the film and Justice for North Korea's campaign, Ms. Park and leaders of foreign groups involved in North Korea have embarked on a 1,500-mile bicycle tour through Europe that culminates in London on July 13. "We want to appeal to citizens in Europe, to raise the awareness of Europeans about the plight of North Korean refugees," says Park. In addition to screening "Crossing," participants in the tour recount the sufferings of a half-million North Koreans sent to prison for crimes against the regime and another 300,000 living desperate lives hiding in northeastern China.
After opening last week in 350 theaters across South Korea, "Crossing" is now showing on 289 screens. As of Tuesday, 654,000 people had seen it – a modest number by local box office standards. In fact, the film's producers are not certain if they will recover the investment of $4 million – a hefty sum by local standards.