C/O Jessica Yang

North Korean human rights advocacy group HanVoice is helping refugees resettle in Canada 

According to Human Rights Watch, North Korea’s government is among the world’s most repressive, severely limiting the freedoms of its citizens. The North Korean government has been found to have committed numerous crimes against humanity. 

HanVoice, founded in 2007, is a Toronto-based organization advocating for North Korean human rights. Originally founded by three law students invested in the North Korean cause, HanVoice has since grown into a nation-wide network of activists. 

With over 300 members, HanVoice’s work has been focussed on resettling North Korean refugees in Canada and hosting international human rights training sessions for Canadian students. At McMaster University, HanVoice McMaster is one of HanVoice’s 15 chapters across the country. 

“After watching a documentary [about North Korea, the founders] were looking around online for different causes to get involved and they found nothing in Canada so they decided they would start their own,” said Taylor Boss, Co-President of HanVoice McMaster. 

HanVoice has been advocating for Canada to accept North Korean refugees for the past eight years, according to their website. This advocacy involved meeting with over 200 policymakers, testifying numerous times in the House of Commons and making multiple appearances on national news networks. 

Finally, on Oct. 26, HanVoice announced a pilot program allowing Canadians to privately sponsor North Korean refugees. 

The program will aim to bring five North Korean families from Thailand, where many North Korean refugees are currently situated, to Canada. The program will specifically target women, who are often victims of gender-based violence. 

Emma Baliat, Co-President of HanVoice McMaster, highlighted that Canada will be the third country globally to accept North Korean refugees, after South Korea and the United States. The Canadian program is unique in that it allows Canadians to privately sponsor North Korean families.

Boss added that many Canadians take pride in the country’s willingness to accept refugees but that the North Korean cause has still been ignored and that, in some cases, North Koreans have been deported from Canada.

Baliat and Boss both highlighted that everyone can make a difference, including those in the McMaster community, even if the issue seems inaccessible. 

“As we've seen in the McMaster community, a lot of people don't really know what the journey is, or they think that the North Korean refugee issue is something that's impossible to help with. [They think that] North Korea is so far off, [that] there are so many restrictions and there's no way it's a cause that we will be able to contribute to. And so I think that's what hinders people from actually looking to see how they can help,” said Baliat. 

Boss added that this perception of North Korea is largely due to media portrayals, which often depict the country as being isolated, removed from the rest of the world and impossible to access or help. 

“Every time that [the media portrays] it like that, it really doesn't help anyone because this is an issue that we can be involved with. These are real people and real lives who are managing to escape and they have stories that we want to help share,” said Boss.

HanVoice McMaster has been raising money to contribute to the resettlement of five families in Canada, with a fundraising goal of $2000. 

Students at McMaster can help support the North Korean cause by donating to HanVoice McMaster or reach out to HanVoice on their website

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