[VIEWPOINT]Helping our starving brothersThe North Korean defector problem has become a global issue. After the Jang Gil-su family sought asylum last year, 25 North Koreans stormed the Spanish Embassy in Beijing in March and other group flights of North Koreans were led by nongovernmental organizations. Such NGO-assisted "planned asylum" by North Korean defectors raised international attention and triggered a heated debate over the fate of the defectors.
Such planned escapes have contributed greatly to the global recognition of the plight of North Korean defectors, but there is a downside. To send a small number of North Koreans to South Korea, the groups planning the escapes are breaking Chinese law, for example by forging identification cards and passports, and a great deal of money and work is involved. It is also difficult and dangerous to enter a foreign mission. In addition, the Chinese government is beefing up its efforts to expose and arrest North Korean defectors, threatening the lives of defectors there.
The North Korean defector problem includes problems in relations between North Korea, South Korea and China and the problem of balance between the roles of government and the private sector to support them. The issue is complex and cannot be solved quickly. The basic solution is to solve the food shortage problem in North Korea; that is why North Koreans are leaving their homes. We must donate more food, medicine, fertilizer and farm implements and step up investments to help the country's economy recover. If the North Korean economy improves and North Koreans can make a living, the number of North Koreans that come to China for food will decline dramatically.
We are happy that the Chinese government has allowed most of the North Korean asylum-seekers to go to South Korea via a third country. But Beijing must stop immediately its searches and arrests of North Korean defectors and the NGO officials who help them. If it is difficult for Beijing to formally recognize the North Korean defectors as refugees, it should consider allowing them temporary refuge. Then, North Koreans will not choose the dangerous way, break-ins at foreign missions, and China will improve its reputation regarding human rights before the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Pyeongyang should provide detailed information on its food shortages to obtain international support, and it should not punish the defectors who return there. Other countries, including the United States and Japan, should be generous in donating food to North Korea.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should be more active in examining the situation of North Korean defectors in China. It is fortunate that Seoul, which had been criticized for its passive "quiet diplomacy" on the defector issue, is changing its attitude and accepting more North Korean defectors.
The government should persuade international organizations and Beijing to help the North Koreans. It should also change the minds of Koreans who criticize "giveaway" aid to North Korea.
The writer is a Buddhist monk of the Jogye Order.