MU student raises awareness about North Korean refugees

Wednesday, July 7, 2010 | 11:15 p.m. CDT
Crystal Rosemann is in the process of beginning a Columbia chapter of the LiNK organization. The group held a screening on Wednesday night of a documentary about North Korean refugees on campus at Jesse Wrench Auditorium .

COLUMBIA ­— For many U.S. citizens, the mention of North Korea evokes thoughts of an erratic dictator or of a potential nuclear adversary.

But one MU student thinks the political issues have overshadowed a humanitarian crisis occurring within its borders.

Crystal Rosemann, a senior at MU, wants to start a local chapter of LiNK, a Torrance, Calif.-based nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting North Korean refugees and spreading the word about the needs of North Korean citizens.

Rosemann said she was first inspired to do something when LiNK volunteers came to show a documentary — called "Seoul Train" — at MU last fall. Since then, she has partnered with LiNK to try and start a chapter in Columbia. On Wednesday night, she helped LiNK volunteers by selling merchandise when they returned to show a different documentary at MU's Jesse Wrench Auditorium.

“Change only happens as long as you have the heart and passion,” said Rosemann.

But in the face of other causes competing for the public's attention, Rosemann has faced an uphill climb. She hasn't been able to gather the set minimum of followers needed to start a LiNK chapter, and excluding volunteers from LiNK, about half a dozen attended Wednesday night's showing, with others filtering in and out of the auditorium.

For Justin Butts — a senior at MU who attended the showing and who traveled to South Korea last summer — the humanitarian issues in North Korea can make getting involved seem overwhelming. But he said he's planning on traveling to South Korea again next February and hopes to continue helping the LiNK organization.

Others are also keeping up the fight to make the crisis relevant to Americans.

“This is not (solely) a Korean issue,” said LiNK volunteer Esther Suh, who is traveling throughout the U.S. with three other interns from the organization. The documentary shown Wednesday night featured accounts of torture and suffering occurring in North Korea.

The documentary is one of three shown by the team to educate people about the refugees that flee North Korea — refugees that LiNK supports through shelters and resettlement programs, which Suh said are concealed for safety.

The organization’s website said it has helped resettle more than 40 North Korean refugees to the U.S. and South Korea.

As for the national organization, Suh said, “we will not stop until we see liberty in North Korea.”

Rosemann is optimistic that Columbia residents will get involved to learn more about the issues and how they can help.

"Once you know about the issue, it is hard to ignore," Rosemann said.

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