These kids show us that when life gives you garbage, make ashcan art:
The tragic story of this group of youngsters aged between 15 and 23 takes us back a few years when one by one they managed to cross the heavily-guarded border from North Korea into China to search for food. Most of them were orphans, while others had a parent unable or unwilling to look after them.
A South Korean missionary living in China, known only as M.J. to protect his identity, tried to help the youngsters and has broken his silence to CNN.
“This one child used to live with his father,” he explained. “One day his father went into a North Korean military base trying to find food but was caught and beaten to death on the spot. The child witnessed this … his mother then told him not to come home and threw rocks at him to keep him away.”
The youngsters survived by foraging for scraps in trashcans. Fish bones and discarded rice were mixed to make a porridge, while rodents were considered a luxury. When M.J. first met some of them in December 2009, they had frostbite on their hands and toes from living in an old abandoned building where temperatures plummeted to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius. Some of them had injuries from beatings by security guards and merchants when they were caught stealing food.
One of the nine, a 20-year-old man, told M.J. he wanted to live in China as “even beggars in China do not go hungry.”
“These kids were suffering from malnutrition and disease,” recalled M.J. “They had been living in quarters with bad sanitation … also they all seemed to have suffered in one form or another from tuberculosis. Because they were suffering from malnutrition, their growth was stunted.”
But wait. As another little moppet taught us, the sunwill come out tomorrow:
The nine lived with the couple and several other North Korean defectors in China for almost two years in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities. They could never leave the house during this time. China doesn’t treat North Koreans in its territory as refugees and usually sends them back across the border.
“As we lived with these children, I saw them change,” M.J.’s wife, who also asked not to be identified, said. “They started having hopes, they started dreaming and I know they were happier. I was overjoyed to have done something worthwhile.”
Another blog would leave it there, would leave you with the hope, however false, that the story ended happily. This is not that sort of blog because this is not that sort of world:
On May 27, the Laos authorities told the youngsters to pack as they were being sent to South Korea. M.J. said they were so happy they all shouted for joy. Years in hiding seemed to finally be over. But the bitter truth of the situation soon became clear.
The missionary couple was prevented from following the children and instead locked in a room at the immigration offices for two hours. The United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, said the group had been sent back to North Korea via China.
Human rights groups were shocked. The missionaries were devastated.
“In these children’s minds, they were going to South Korea,” said M.J.’s wife. “They never imagined after crossing the border to Laos they would be sent back to North Korea.”
Doubtless these innocents don’t read BTL—China wields a force of two million Internet cops—else they would have guessed what was up. They would have twigged to the certainty that the problems of nine little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
A twisted coda to a twisted story:
The children have since been used for propaganda purposes in Pyongyang, appearing on state-run television in June claiming they had been tricked into leaving North Korea and expressing thanks to leader Kim Jong Un for saving them and bringing them back.
“What I am concerned about is what is going to happen after the propaganda is gone and the rhetoric is over,” said M.J. “If we don’t pay attention, if we don’t keep asking where these children are, then these children will be lost forever and we will never know what happened to them.”
Good luck with that.
You could have gone about your business today without knowing the betrayal of these kids. But you wouldn’t know the betrayal of humanity that this story also lays bare. There are many guilty parties, but I hold China distinctly responsible. (Of course you do, BTL.) Unlike Laos, it would have cost China nothing to save these nine souls.
But that’s not how China (spring) rolls. From the macro (Internet snoops, choking smog, myriad human rights abuses) to the micro (forced late-term abortions), the China state doesn’t “get” the rights of the individual. Like the concept of hope for these hopeless kids, the concept of human liberty is without meaning. I bet there’s not even a character for for the idea.
For some orphans, the sun will never come up again.