All Kinds of Help to Refugees from North
North Korean Refugees Foundation doing all it can to help escapees numbering 20,000 from North to settle down in South
Kim Il-joo, chairman of the North Korean Refugees Foundation
Kim Il-joo, chairman of the North Korean Refugees Foundation, was a refugee from North Korea himself. He joined the Republic of Korea Army and fought against North Korea's invading forces during the Korean War as a student volunteer soldier. He worked at odd jobs to put himself through high school in Seoul after the war and graduated from Konkuk University on a scholarship.
Kim was named to head the foundation on Oct. 24, 2010, following the passage of relevant laws at the National Assembly in recognition of the need for such an organization as the number of North Korean refugees in the South have now swelled to over 20,000. The Ministry of Unification thought he was truly qualified to lead the foundation because he himself is a North Korean refugee and worked hard all his life to help North Korean refugees in the South to settle down and have normal lives.
Here is what he had to say during a recent interview with NewsWorld:
Question: Can you tell us the course of development of the foundation from the beginning to its establishment?
Answer: The foundation is an expanded and reformed version of the refugee support council, which I led from 2005. The foundation came into being on Sept. 27, 2010, in line with the law passed by the parliament in March. I was named chairman on Oct. 24.
The purpose of the foundation's launching is to help those who escaped from North Korea, now totaling some 20,000, to settle in the South and have a stable life, which is a shortcut to national reunification. Those people who fled from the North are likely to play a big role in the South during reunification.
One of the important support measures the foundation has been providing to the refugees is remittance of money to their families in the North. Across the Tumen River, a telegraph tower is located on the Chinese side and the Chinese of Korean nationality can bring their telephone to the tower and connect with families in the North to tell them money will be transferred to their bank accounts. I myself sent some money on a number of occasions to help my relatives in the North this way. The Chinese-Koreans who help the remittances get 30 percent of the money they help to transfer.
Q: How was the situation at the support council before you took over as chairman?
A: The council did have its share of problems before I took over as its head. When Chairman Kang Seong-mo had been in charge of running the council, there were only 20 to 30 refugees from North Korea in the South and the council had not much going in terms of activities to support them. When Chairman Kang retired four years later, succeeded by Chairman Woo Yong-keun, the situation did not get any better. The council became a headache to the Ministry of Unification then, and former Unification Minister Chung Dong-young recommended the chairman of the Unification Ministry as chairman of the refugeesO foundation.
Q: What have been some of your major achievements as chairman to support North Korean refugees in real terms?
A: North Korean refugees are being housed in long-term lease residences. I moved the foundation's head office in Seoul from Gugi-dong to Banpo-dong in 2005 to help the refugees visit the foundation with greater ease. I had a big hand in raising the annual budget of the foundation to 1.7 billion won in 2006 from 370 million won in 2005. Of that, 670 million won was allocated to be used for the newly arrived refugees to get training at Hana Institution for three months on how to settle their lives in the South and the rest of the budget went to help the refugees, which totaled some 5,000 in 2006.
Later, 100 million won was provided to the Hankyorae School run by the Won Buddhist sect to help North Korean refugee children to be on the same level of education with their South Korean counterparts.
The foundation tried to increase the annual budget every year, climbing to 2.2 billion won and 4.2 billion won. In 2010, the budget rose to 6.25 billion won and we received 24.8 billion won for 2011.
Q: Can you please tell us the current situation faced by the refugees and what kind of support the foundation has been providing to them as well as the foundation's future plans?
A: The number of refugees from the North has been rising every year and last year it passed the 20,000 mark. As such, the foundation's work for them has also been expanding to help them start a new life in the South. The foundation has been trying to find long-term lease residences and jobs for them. The foundation has been giving 13 million won each to those refugees as key money for the long-term lease of residences and we found jobs recently for 35 of them to work at the POSCO building in Songdo, Incheon.
The foundation now has 10 regular employees and 15 interns, but that will increase to 60 this year. The foundation will move to a bigger office in the Shinhan Building in Yeouido, Seoul.
From now on the foundation will try to provide sick refugees who couldn't get treated properly in the North and even in the South due to economic reasons with proper medical treatment. In 2009, the number of those people rose to 625 from 320 the previous year, and last year we helped about 1,000 such people get medical care with the foundation's assistance. We will have around 100 counselors around the country to help the refugees settle in the South with few problems.
They are proud of being refugees from the North and they would like to be continuously known as North Korean refugees, not 'new settlers.'
I would like to work on the academy I set up to help the North Korean refugees on my own in addition to the supportive work being done by the foundation. There are three academies, one for farmers, one for a 'new mind' (saemaum), and a leaders academy, and they can graduate from the academies when they complete the 12-week courses held every Saturday and Sunday.
I was born in Danchoen, South Hamgyeong Province, North Korea, and when I was 17 years old, I joined the South Korean army and fought against North Koreans during the Korean War. When I got out of the army after the war, I worked many jobs including as an errand boy, repair shop technician and taxi driver, among others. With the money I made, I entered Whimun High School in Seoul. After graduation from high school, I was able to enroll at Keonkuk University thanks to Chancellor Yoon Seok-chan who provided me with a scholarship for the entire four years until my graduation.
Q: Have you been able to meet some of your family members since your escape to the South?
A: In 1997, I met my sister and brother in Yeongil, northeast China, and my two granddaughters are in the South with me.
I published a farmers culture magazine for 11 years, but it was put out of business during the Chun Doo-hwan regime. I also set up and ran the Farmers Education Institute in 1959, which changed its name to the Samaul Education Institute and is still operating in Shihung, Gyeonggi Province. The institute donated part of its land totaling 22,000 pyeong in 1975. The Korea Leaders Academy set up 51 years ago is still in operation.
I am the first one in Korea to set up a village library. The business expanded to the extent that its numbers totaled 360 across the country with offices in farm towns and provincial capitals. But in 1971, with the declaration of the Yushin Constitution, offices in cities and provinces had to be closed. I started the Saemaul Movement long before the late president Park did. In September 1969, the movement was aired on MBC-TV. President Park learned about the movement through the broadcast and kicked off the Saemaul Movement across the country as a government project.
Dialogue and negotiated settlement are basic to democracy. When the public education level is high, you have a government enjoying a high-degree of public support and when public understanding is low, you have a low level of support for the government.
When I met with Dr. Offreff, former president of Switzerland, he said a neutral nation must have a strong army to main its neutrality, and at the time, Korea's defense budget came only to 1 trillion won, while the Swiss had one three times larger than ours. A witness to that country's high-level defense posture is its civilian self-defense forces. They can be fully mobilized with arms in three to four hours because they have arms and army uniforms ready at home. One really surprising thing is that there have been no accidents, which is an indication of the high-level of public understanding.
I believe in three major ideals that one should have to get the country on the right course, removing mistakes:
The first thing is that one should have an apparent philosophy in life and should work with honesty. The second is that one should know how to form human elements. The third is that one should have transparent funds.
Q: How did you reach such a philosophy?
A: DNA given by your parents and your teachers, and meeting an ideal person as your spouse are the most important factors. In my case, I had very good parents who had been clean and virtuous, who have had a very profound influence in my life. I also had three very important teachers who gave me important lessons in my life. Former Konkuk University chancellor Yoon Seok-chan is one of them, former president of the National Agricultural Cooperatives Federation Choo Sok-kyun, who provided me with a profound knowledge on the agricultural sector of Korea in another, and the third one is Choi In who was a great academic influence.
I tried hard to practice what I learned from them all my life.
My wife is a former Miss Korea of 1963 and we married while she was relatively young. She is a graduate of Sookmyung Women's University and she has a strong character and modesty, making her a wonderful model for life.
Here are what I believe are the five most important educational indices in U.S. education:
1. Human nature education at the development stages of children by age.
2. Human nature education through lessons of history.
3. Education to respect laws.
4. A joint body for justice.
5. Education on freedom and love.nw