LiNK connects with North Koreans

Huddled around several large desks in a small office in Torrance, CA, numerous volunteers feverishly type on their computers.  The workers of Liberty In North Korea (LiNK) have just returned from an 11-week nationwide tour, and are tying up the loose ends of the operation. LiNK Global was established in 2004 with the goal of aiding North Korean refugees, stranded in China.

"LiNK was started by two Korean Americans who were college students," said Regional Manager Brenda Abel. "(They) were really appalled by what was going on in North Korea and by the human rights violations."

The non-profit organization estimates that between 30,000 and 300,000 North Koreans currently hide in China, with the hope of resettling in South Korea, Europe, or America. These refugees are the focus of LiNK's "THEHUNDRED" campaign.  The goal of the operation is to facilitate the rescue and relocation of 100 North Korean refugees throughout China. So far, 35 refugees have resettled around the world.

As a non-profit, LiNK exists because of donations and volunteers fittingly dubbed 'nomads'. These nomads travel in groups of three or four all across the country, raising awareness and funds for LiNK.

"Sure it's demanding," said nomad William Clayton, "but it has been the most amazing experience, and I haven't regretted any of it."

It costs $2,500 to transport one North Korean refugee from China to Southeast Asia. The funds that the nomads raise go toward food, shelter, guides, and paperwork needed during these rescues. Finances are raised through donations and merchandise sales.

"It was high school students that really went out of their way to really get us to our goals," said Kyla Hoggard, a nomad for the southeast team.  "The majority of our donations were literally dollars and pennies, and those added up to rescue three refugees on our tour."

During this most recent tour, Hoggard had the opportunity to meet Joseph, a resettled refugee currently living in the United States.

"It was definitely, by far, hands down, the best part of being a Nomad," said Hoggard.  "To think about the experiences he went through, and for him to have such a spirit and so much life, it's humbling."

The shocking personal stories of refugees like Joseph fuel LiNK. At each screening, Nomads show various media pieces which tell the often times, brutal stories of those rescued. Afterwards, the volunteers field questions from the audience.

LiNK is a small organization with a huge reach, boasting 145 chapters nationwide. "We are on college campuses, high school campuses, at churches, and in communities. Without these chapters, we couldn't do what we do," said Megan Rhodes. Amongst the chapters, over $27,000 has been raised for "THEHUNDRED" campaign.

Rescuing refugees isn't exactly safe. China cooperates with North Korea, repatriating any refugees found within their borders. North Korea enforces harsh punishments upon those who defect the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), Kim Jong Il's dictatorial regime.

According to Human Rights Watch, "Those who leave, face grave punishment upon repatriation such as lengthy terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labor camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment and torture by camp guards."

The rescue missions are high risk for both the refugees and those who aid in their rescue however, fear of DPRK hasn't inhibited the campaign. "We haven't actually been called out by anyone from the North Korean government, but we like to imagine that they know we exist," said Rhodes.

Currently, LiNK has only 16 full time employees, but grows larger every year.

"Our goal is 100 refugees," said Abel, "but we won't stop there, there is always more to do."