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South Korean and Western missionary groups run schools, orphanages and cafes near the China-North Korea border, in order to channel aid into North Korea. However, according to the article, China is cracking down on Christian charity groups and many South Korean churches have been shut down. About one third of the 3,000 South Korean missionaries have been forced out of China.
08/11/2014 China (Reuters) – China is cracking down on Christian charity groups near its border with North Korea, missionaries and aid groups say, with hundreds of members of the community forced to leave the country and some who remain describing an atmosphere of fear.
The sweep along the frontier is believed to be aimed at closing off support to North Koreans who flee persecution and poverty in their homeland and illegally enter China before going on to other nations, usually ending up in South Korea.
The South says the number of such defections is showing signs of a slight slowdown this year.
Beijing has not charged anyone with any crime, but two sources with direct knowledge say a Korean-American man who ran a vocational school in the border town of Tumen was being investigated by Chinese authorities.
Earlier this month, China said it was investigating a Canadian couple who ran a coffee shop in Dandong city on suspicion of stealing state secrets.
As many as one third of the 3,000 South Korean missionaries working in China, largely near the North Korean border, have been forced out, most by having their visas refused, said Simon Suh, a Christian pastor who runs an orphanage in Yanji, a city near Tumen.
Many South Korean churches have been shut down, he said, quoting information he had received from several Christian groups in the region.
“Peter (Hahn)’s school in Tumen and Kevin Garratt’s coffee shop were two organizations that were really well known,” said Suh. “Both of them being cracked down on is a huge blow to everyone, to every activist who is involved with North Korea.”
The missionaries in the remote and mountainous region are usually reserved, but during a recent visit by a Reuters reporter, they seemed especially fearful of speaking to outsiders and appeared to be worried about being followed by security forces.
South Korean and Western missionary groups run schools, orphanages and cafes in the region and channel food and other aid into North Korea. But some of them have also been caught up in helping North Koreans who have fled their isolated country.
There was no firm evidence, however, that Hahn or the Garratts were involved in the so-called underground railroad, helping people escape from North Korea and clandestinely facilitating their journey to the South, usually through a third country.
Statistics released by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification show the number of North Korean refugees to defect to the South has slightly decreased to about 700 in the first six months of the year, although it would be too soon for the crackdown to take full effect.
In the last two years, about 1,500 people have successfully made the journey each year.
“They have built more fencing, re-organized the border guards, increased punishments for failed escapees and have increased cooperation with the Chinese authorities to disrupt networks helping those who manage to escape,” said Sokeel Park of LiNK, an NGO that works with North Korean defectors.