Student group speaks out on behalf of North Korean refugees

The Carnegie Mellon chapter of Liberation in North Korea (LiNK) promoted North Korea awareness last week by displaying 98 ribbons on the Cut, one for each North Korean that dies per hour from starvation.

Young Ko, a fifth-year architecture major and the coordinator and founder of the LiNK chapter, believes the ribbons serve as a reminder.

“Not only are we speaking out for 23 million North Koreans and 250,000 refugees, who are largely suffering from human rights violations both in the nation and in hiding, but we also want to [remind] them that they are not forgotten,” he said.
LiNK also encouraged awareness by placing posters on easels along the Cut, providing a free showing of Seoul Train, a documentary about North Korea, and tabling for donations for Safe Haven, a project that provides shelter, food, and support to North Korean refugees in China.

This was LiNK’s first public demonstration on campus, and Ko considers it a success.

“We were really reaching out to people,” Ko said. “People would come up to our table and tell us they saw the ribbons and photos on the Cut and ask us how they could help.”

This kind of awareness was not always easy to find. Carnegie Mellon’s LiNK, which got its start two years ago, has only now really begun to get its name out.

The inspiration to start a chapter began in the summer of 2004. Ko felt moved to bring the cause to Carnegie Mellon after talking with two friends, who were both involved with LiNK at other universities.

At this point, LiNK, a non-profit, non-government, and non-religious organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., was spreading worldwide.

“I felt like I needed to be a voice for the 23 million people of North Korea,” Ko said. “I couldn’t be silent.”

That winter he met with Inyoung Song, now a senior policy and management major, and established LiNK as a student organization on campus.

For Ko and Song, the toughest obstacle has been the apathy of Carnegie Mellon students.

“You put up a poster, people look at it, but don’t do anything,” Song said.

The level of apathy is matched with the level of ignorance. Too few people know about the true state of North Korea, he said.

Ko recalled that even growing up in South Korea, the issue was never discussed in depth.

“In [elementary school], they just taught us that North Korea was a communist country that was different than ours, but that’s all,” Ko said.

As LiNK’s education chair, Song has divided the information into three discussions as a part of LiNK’s general body meetings, which occur the first Monday of every month. The first discussion is to provide background information and history on the split of North and South Korea and on the current president of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, and his actions. The second aims to address human rights issues involving the treatment of North Koreans in concentration camps and gulags (labor camps), and once they escape as refugees. Finally, the third focuses on how America fits into the situation.

“There are a lot of rumors, but not actual facts going around, so it’s important that people are educated,” Song said. “The more they know, the more they’ll want to know.”

Jason Eisensmith, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh and the former LiNK coordinator for Pitt’s chapter, believes that the human rights issue is overshadowed by the political issue.

“When we ask people what they know about North Korea, the very first thing they say is the nuclear weapon testing,” Eisensmith said.

Joe Kim, a senior ethics, history, and public policy major and the political chair of Carnegie Mellon’s LiNK, agrees.

“There shouldn’t just be a focus on nuclear weapons,” Kim said. “I wish people would see that it’s more than that.”

Ko said he was surprised how quickly the organization as a whole has spread in just two years. LiNK now has chapters in high schools, meaning some first-years come into college familiar with the organization.

Ko believes the next step is to promote tangible progress and resolution. His goal is to raise $2000 for Safe Haven, a
donation large enough to sustain a shelter for North Korean refugees in China for up to six months.

“We provide a direct means for people to help out,” Kim said.

Ko, Eisensmith, and Kim all agree that being a part of this organization and its cause is something they felt they needed to do.

“I feel a personal connection to these people in North Korea. They are in my genetic pool,” Kim said. “If anybody should be helping, it should be us.”

More information on LiNK can be found at