North Korean defectors living in Belgium held a street photography exhibition and distributed printed materials criticising North Korean human rights abuses. The event attracted considerable attention of Belgian people.


North Korean Residents in Europe Society [NKRE] hosted a screening of a South Korean film “Ode to My Father” on 20 September at Cinéma Galeries in Brussels. North Korean members of NKRE held a photography exhibition accusing of human rights violations against North Korean civilians and migrant workers in front of the cinema. The President of NKRE, Chang Man-suk, said that he hosted this event to spread awareness of human rights abuses of overseas North Korean labourers through the film.


The film “Ode to My Father”depicts a story of young South Koreans who became middle class by themselves through the income earned by migrant labour at construction sites in the Middle East in the 1970s. On the other hand, North Korean migrant labourers working more than 16 hours per day in Qatar, Poland, Russia, China, etc. are now suffering modern-day slavery, and more than 90% of their wages are being taken by the Pyongyang regime.


NKRE says that there is a huge gap between overseas South Korean workers of the 1970s, who were able to improve their standard of living through migrant labour, and North Korean migrant workers now exploited to fund dictatorship.


A North Korean defector Kim Young-chun, who was interviewed under an assumed name, said that he didn’t recognise the tragic realities of his country while living in North Korea, and people in this isolated country still don’t know human rights values and standards. Mr. Kim from Sunchon, South Pyongan Province escaped from North Korea due to bad living conditions and settled in Belgium in 2010. He added that he participated in this event with the aim of spreading information about poor situations his family and friends faced within North Korea, and even if North Korean authorities threaten his family, he wouldn’t stop distributing printed materials revealing human rights infringements in North Korea to Belgian people.


After watching the film and photography exhibition, and reading the distributed materials, people became to know the different conditions, faced by South Korean migrant labourers of the 1970s and North Korean migrant labourers of the 2010s.


A Belgian NGO’s staff proposed cooperation on the human rights issues by showing interests in the North Korean defectors' process of escape, repatriation and its consequences, and their difficulties in assimilating into European society. Experts say that human rights activities organised by North Korean refugees can have a significant influence, so North Korean authorities are eager to prevent these attempts.


North Korea authorities have released videos about the families of defectors being taken hostage through a state-controlled website “Uriminzokkiri”. Also, the staff members of North Korean embassies often turn up and disturb human rights activities and events. 


A conference debate on North Korean human rights, held in Indonesia on 16 September, was hindered by 10 North Korean embassy staff, who entered the venue without invitation. Secret police forces from the State Security Department of North Korea, sent to North Korean embassy in Germany frequently monitor human rights activities by North Korean defectors through North Korean embassy in London.


But NKRE emphasised that staff members of embassies well aware of the misery and human rights abuses within North Korea should refuse the dictatorship and serve people’s interests.


NKRE members in Belgium appealed for continuous interest and support regarding North Korean human rights, insisting that North Korean regime will collapse if the international community continues to put pressure on Pyongyang with the human rights issues.

(Free NK, Translated by Bohyun Kim)