I met a North Korean defector for the first time in my life recently, and it really changed my thoughts on how I view the ongoing refugee crisis.
The first time I met a North Korean refugee was while interning at Liberty in North Korea (or LiNK for short). As an intern at LiNK, we are provided housing! As a result, all the interns live in one house and for two weeks, we had a North Korean defector come live with us. The North Korean who lived with us was Danny. He has his own documentary called Danny from North Korea and I highly recommend watching it here!
Meeting and living with him was the first interaction I had with a North Korean refugee. Before meeting him, I really did not have any stereotypes regarding North Korean refugees. I had only always pictured the refugees as someone who went through so much hardship to the point they had to flee their home country. The respect I have for these refugees is so much that I was really nervous about meeting Danny. They were someone I looked to in awe because they went through so much.
After meeting Danny:
After meeting Danny and other North Korean refugees, it really dawned on me that they truly are regular human beings, like you and me. Danny drove to our house with a BMW and sat on our couch with his MacBook, iPad, Beats headphones, and iPhone. When I first saw this, I laughed to myself as this was not how I imagined a North Korean refugee. This scene just really made me realize that they are like anyone else in the world. Refugees love to stay up to date on technology, they enjoy fashion and dressing up, they love art, they love eating, and they love so many things that you and I love. They are kind. They are resilient. Some are very talkative and some are reserved.
My thoughts on the ongoing refugee crisis:
I see characteristics of my friends and family in these North Korean refugees. Of course, we cannot forget the fact that they have overcome so much in North Korea to get to where they are today. However, they are so much more than their hardships. They are humans as much as we are humans.
The term refugee can be misleading. A refugee is defined as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” My opinion on societal views is that people associate refugees as some kind of ‘bad’ or ‘unwanted’ people. But, that is not the case at all. These refugees have good reasons for fleeing their country; they’re not running away for fun. They have thought long and hard about the decision to leave their home country, their friends, and their family members. It is not an easy decision and the fact that they have to make such a decision is hard enough. And to make matters worse, it does not get easier for the refugees once they flee their country. They have to fit into a society which may sometimes not accept them. The refugees have to learn how to survive in a new country that they knew nothing about before. When people think of the word refugee, I do not want them to think of poor and unwanted people. I want them to think of refugees as humans who have faced so much, and who are in dire need of kindness and love from those around them.
How we must change:
Changing the narrative on how people think is the main issue that can be improved to help North Korean refugee stereotypes. Mainstream media has defined North Korea as crazy Kims and nuclear weapons, which has created a barrier preventing ordinary people around the world from getting involved. We must change this stereotypical narrative to focus on the North Korean people: both their challenges and the incredible potential they have.