NORTH Korean defections are now at “virtually zero” with Kim Jong-un’s grip never stronger due to a combination of Covid and crystal meth smuggling, The Sun can reveal.
The pandemic has made it almost impossible for anyone to escape the brutal regime with the despot increasing his already heavily fortified borders – while starving people are forced to eat grass and dirt, a North Korean rescue organization claims.
Now human traffickers aren’t even interested in the lucrative trade of smuggling people across the border in North Korea – worth upwards of $20,000 per person – but would rather export tonnes of methamphetamine, which has bigger profits and fewer risks.
Now, a high profile defector Pastor Chun Ki-won, known as the “Godfather of North Korean Defectors” is pleading for President Joe Biden to put pressure on China to help the Koreans plight.
Chun is known throughout Asia for his daredevil 007-style rescue operations where he’s saved over 1,200 people.
He has become so prolific and successful that he’s known personally to the North Korean president, who labelled him a "cancer who should be eradicated".
His nickname in America is "Asia’s Schindler”, in reference of Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist who saved 1,200 Jews from the gas chambers during World War 2 and was the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's 1993 award-winning movie Schindler's List.
The pastor runs the Durihana Mission in Seoul, but his operations have been cut to zero during the coronavirus pandemic.
Usually, he'd be able to lead groups of absconders through Asia by foot, truck and trains.
China has made these operations so fraught with danger and refused visas to Durihana and other rescue NGOs.
Speaking on behalf of Chun, Pastor Ryan Ellsworth from the group, told The Sun: “Ever since Kim came to power, he’s worked consistently to ramp up border security, putting heavy duty guns on the border to replace soldiers, tightened things up.
"Previously, they could be given money to look away as they were starving, but that’s stopped.
"Covid has helped North Korea in terms of secrecy, its surveillance techniques are getting better.
“The focus of attention has shifted away from human trafficking. Those who were able to help the most oppressed can’t do it right now and there’s been a cracking down on the Chinese Church, which used to help.
"Now it’s too risky, people are in prison who have helped, or have to flee for their own lives."
Pastor Ryan, who leads the Durihana US branch, in Sante Fe, New Mexico, claims that people in North Korea are so desperate that they’re eating grass and dirt as experts warn another famine is imminent like in the nineties.
“Now we’re not allowed to do anything in China, we can’t get visas, everything is shut down," he said.
"There’s still a lot in North Korea reaching out, asking for help, that hasn’t stopped at all. Pastor Chun’s rescued 1200 people, but it [the pandemic] has forced him to stay put.
“This is a time to be praying for the people of North Korea, so when the door is open again, we’ll be ready. The need will never be greater. Their food and economy situation, things are pretty bad, where they’re eating grass or dirt.”
Rescuers are also finding that defectors are finding it harder to escape because they’d usually call upon human traffickers to help, who’ve now turned their attention to the drug trade.
“Leading up to Covid, North Korea was a favored exporter of high grade meth and spice, which has increased the cost of rescuing someone," Pastor Ryan said.
"Now there’s competition getting things out of the country, it’s not just humans, which drives up the price, looking upwards of $12,000, easily $20,000. It’s much more than a dollar per mile."
The Durihana Mission wants the US government to intervene and push China on the issue.
Pastor Ryan says: “China could make things right, they could just apply gentle pressure. I don’t see a political will to fight for this people, no one wants to make it an issue.
"There’s some Western governments that could do more. No one wants to stand up to China.
“North Koreans should be allowed to pass through, according to international human rights.
"But China lets North operatives work in their country and kill people who help North Koreans, everyone knows it.
“We’re not asking the US government to help financially, we’ll do this on our own dime, but stop China forcibly repatriating North Korea citizens, please allow these people passage through your country, you don’t need to give them anything, just let them pass. That would be a game changer.”
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