Sunday, March 6, 2011

Difficulties of North Korean Refugees

"I loved you before I met you." These are the words of Fr. Im Carmelo the Paris Foreign Missioner  the first pastor  of the  Kam Kok parish in Chung Pukto, the mother church of the diocese. He came to Korea  in 1896 and died in 1947. The Religious Sister who works in the diocesan immigration center starts her column in the Peace Weekly with his words.

On the Sister's visit to Pyongyang in North Korea in 2005 she had the same thoughts that Fr. Im had before coming to Korea from France. Escorted around the city by guides she was asked many questions about her life as a sister. They showed a great interest in her life as a religious. When she responded that sisters do not marry she was asked, "What does your wandering husband do?"  She did not know what to make of the question after telling them she was not married. She was sorry not to have had  more time to speak to them.

The sister is involved in teaching some of the refugees the catechism, and in so doing  noticed the many  differences in language and culture  between the North and South. I have heard the same  from others. One Sister who also has worked with the refugees said more than the language is the way they think. Over 60 years separated from the rest of the world  changes the way they relate and experience the world.

The ones who have made it to the South had to overcome all kinds of privations and near death experiences. Even though they are safely here in the South the barking of a dog at night, or the lights from passing cars coming through the bedroom  windows at night, bring back the fear of the Chinese security police that are coming  in search of them. This makes their sleep fitful. There is also the pain of not knowing what their family is suffering because of their defection. Life in the  South, consequently, is lived in the shadows.

The Center in which the Sister works is called the New Land Citizen Center, a word  recently coined. There are many who come to the center to ask for help. Some of the refugees were sold to Chinese men and were forcibly  sterilized.  They have reversed this and have had children but some with abusive husband have come to the center for help.

They have so much in common with the South and yet the  differences are not minor and these differences  will continue to grow until the future unification.

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