Korean-American churches staged the first of a series of prayer vigils Tuesday at Chinese consulates in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., to protest China's treatment of North Korean refugees ahead of the Beijing Olympics.
The Korean Church Coalition (KCC) for North Korea Freedom – which includes over 3,000 Korean pastors and the millions of Korean-American Christians they represent – have organized the prayer vigils which will take place every Tuesday at one or more of the six Chinese consulates in the United States until the Olympic Games begin on Aug. 8. The prayer vigil in San Francisco will be held every Friday.
"We hope that China will finally open its ears and eyes and realize that they have a legal and moral obligation to protect and safeguard the human rights of the refugees residing within their borders," said Sam Kim, KCC's executive director, to The Christian Post Tuesday after the event.
There are a total of six Chinese consulates in the United States – in Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.
Kim said KCC, on behalf of the 300,000 North Korean refugees in China, is making three requests: for Beijing to grant refugee status to North Koreans instead of calling them economic migrants; stop forced repatriation of North Koreans back to their country; and allow them safe passage to a third country that is willing to allow them to resettle. North Korea is one of the most repressive regimes in the world and is ranked by the watchdog Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians.
Citizens of North Korea are forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung. And it is said that at least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years to escape the communist state.
Although North Koreans who flee to China are considered by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea as "refugees" who deserve protection, China claims they are "economic migrants" and not refugees. China has used the status as an excuse to return North Korean refugees back to their country where they face imprisonment, torture, and sometimes execution for leaving the country – a state crime.
On Tuesday in Los Angeles, about 48 Korean-Americans gathered at the Chinese consulate and visa offices to pray out loud and peacefully protest China's handling of North Korean refugees. Kim said the police officers monitoring the event were surprised by the makeup of the group which included lawyers, doctors, businessmen and pastors – some of them in business suits – and to hear that a Korean church group will return every week until the Olympics.
For the Washington event, it was decided that only Korean-American pastors would attend the first prayer vigil.
The prayer vigils are part of the KCC's "Let My People Go Before 2008 Beijing Olympics" campaign that aims to mobilize hundreds of thousands people to display banners and bumper stickers throughout the country before the Olympic Games.
"We are determined to make a big impact and we will continue to speak out for the North Korean refugees who have no voice of their own," Kim declared.
Since 2004, KCC has held about 38 prayer vigils across the United States and in South Korea.