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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Students raise money to help North Korean refugees seek freedom

Photo by FILE

Members of the Texas A&M chapter of Liberty in North Korea raise funds to help rescue North Korean refugees.

North Korean refugees’ journey to reach freedom doesn’t end when they flee the nation, and students at Texas A&M are working to raise financial support and awareness for an often-overlooked crisis.
It is estimated that 80,000 to 120,000 North Korean citizens are held in prison camps under the regime of Kim Jong Un, and the 25 million citizens outside of these camps are also deprived of many basic rights and freedoms such as the freedom of speech, religion and movement. Because of this repression, thousands of North Koreans attempt to flee the regime each year through the Chinese-North Korea border. If they reach China, they are not regarded as refugees despite China’s participation in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which guarantees the protection and non-repatriation of individuals fleeing threats to life or freedom.
Liberty in North Korea, a nonprofit based out of Long Beach, California, helps North Korean refugees in China reach freedom in South Korea or the United States. The organization has helped 939 refugees to date, and students in the Texas A&M chapter are joining the movement by fundraising and bringing awareness to this crisis. International studies sophomore Jake Shatzer, the founder and president of Liberty in North Korea: Texas A&M, said he lived in South Korea and created the chapter at A&M to make an impact on campus and overseas.
“If you think about North Korea, the average person in the United States is going to think about Kim Jong Un, nuclear missiles, because that’s what the news focuses on,” Shatzer said. “But there are actually 25 million people living in North Korea and not a lot of people are thinking about what they’re going through and the fact that they’re trying to reach freedom — that they’re trying to change their country, and there are ways we can help them do that.”
Shatzer said Liberty in North Korea staff go to China to guide North Korean refugees to safety and avoid repatriation.
“It’s especially dangerous for female North Korean refugees because they have no legal status in China,” Shatzer said. “They’re frequently sold into forced marriages, trafficked into sex trade. It’s really dangerous for them there, and that’s why Liberty in North Korea staff goes there and helps them get out.”
Chad Miller, treasurer and Bush School student, said North Korea is largely neglected at A&M, so information that students obtain deals only with Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump or North Korea’s nuclear program.
“For us to come here and shed light on a different side of North Korea is really important because of the lack of alternatives that we have here at Texas A&M,” Miller said. “There’s no classes to tell you otherwise, and then you’ve got the news that only focuses on that one aspect.”
Miller said that in addition to helping refugees escape China and raising awareness about the crisis, Liberty in North Korea also helps resettle refugees once they reach freedom.
“We see a tangible difference because we’re actually helping to save actual people,” Miller said. “I’ve met people who have benefited from the work that Liberty in North Korea does.”
Ben Zimmer, outreach officer and Bush School student, said North Korean defectors can also bring information back into North Korea and eventually contribute to the liberation of its people.
“A lot of movements that can topple regimes, like the Arab Spring — they start from the people,” Zimmer said.
Shatzer said the organization has raised over $1,250 and plans on reaching $3,000 by the end of the year, which is the amount of money required to help one refugee reach freedom.
World Holocaust Remembrance Day took place two weeks ago and used the slogan “never again.” Shatzer said every individual should remember that slogan as they think about North Korea.
“This should never happen again, and it is happening again,” Shatzer said. “It’s important to be the people that stood up and said ‘This is happening. This is wrong. We need to make a difference.’”
Donations to the Texas A&M chapter of Liberty in North Korea can be made at

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