SMC student spreading word about North Korean refugee petition

Santa Monica College student Edward Joe Kim imagines what life must be like for his friend's sister, a North Korean refugee. “I know there is no such thing as freedom there,” he says. “There is no food. People talk about horror stories where children are so hungry, they’re fighting over kernels of corn in cow dung. People often die from starvation.” This is the reality of living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Citizens face political oppression, poverty, and torrid living conditions. Those who disagree with the Communist state are either killed or sent to labor camps.

According to reports by Amnesty International, 30 refugees, including Joe Kim's friend's sister, were caught crossing into China in early February. They are now waiting to be repatriated into North Korea to be publically executed. Joe Kim says, "I heard that she was caught, and it just made me sick to my stomach. I couldn't sleep, so I looked online and found the petition. I made a Facebook event for her."

The petition, called "Save My Friend," aims to get the international community’s attention, and compel China to release the refugees to South Korea, where they will automatically become citizens, says Joe Kim.

According to the petition’s website, after the death of North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, in November of 2011, his son and successor, Kim Jong-un, declared that refugees caught fleeing North Korea during the 100 days - of mourning would be killed along with their families..

Joe Kim’s Facebook event has over 1,000 members. "It's an event and not a group, because it ends when she will be freed or when she is put to death," he says.

Since early March, the Save My Friend petition has garnered over 171,000 signatures and provided a point of unification for refugee supporters. Word of mouth and social networking helped bring attention to the issue. "It’s easy to support,” Joe Kim says. “You log on to, and you can sign it and share it with your friends."

American journalist sisters, Laura and Lisa Ling, have created a video explaining the goals and aim of the petition. Laura Ling was detained in North Korea in 2009 for illegally crossing the North Korean border. "It was the most frightening time of my life, but I am home and free," she says in the video. "There are too many North Koreans who live in fear for their lives.

Joe Kim’s friend’s sister, a North Korean refugee, is currently at the mercy of China. “They’re doing a cost-benefit analysis of what to do with these North Koreans,” says Joe Kim. “They want stronger ties with the new leader Kim Jong-un, but we’re hoping the petition will be helpful in swaying their decision in the light of public pressure to get them to South Korea.”

Joe Kim says North Koreans live relegated to a world without an understanding of the outside world. “They are taught to hate America from a very young age,” he says.“They are told that their leader is protecting them, and not to trust anyone.”

Joe Kim is optimistic that the petition will be successful in saving the refugees. "If enough people care, it will change," he says. "It's not like blind optimism, because it's happened before, they've let people go. But we have to get enough people talking about it first."