In 2013, the U.S. Congress passed the North Korean Child Welfare Act to facilitate the adoption of North Korean orphans by Americans. South Korean pastor Reverend Sung-eun Kim has struggled to rescue North Korean orphans. However, it has been hard to prove that these children actually are orphans.
The Asian Underground Railroad for North Korean refugees, which is operated mostly by Christians, is a circuitous 5,000-kilometer route that runs from North Korea to China, Laos and Thailand. China and Laos do not recognize North Korean defectors as refugees, and the refugees are therefore at risk of deportation or imprisonment.
International watchdog groups such as the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have been pressuring China and Laos to acknowledge the refugee status of North Korean defectors. Their illegal status is a primary reason for the birth of a black market designed to capitalize on their security needs.
Reverend Kim, South Korea’s best known North Korean activist, is an evangelist dedicated to “Christianizing” North Koreans. He plans in The Rescuer to arrange smugglers and human traffickers to help children to cross the borders two or three at a time — a good cause at first glance, and a good business at the second. Rev. Kim is a human rights activist who risks his life to help these refugees. Yet he has to buy the refugees from human traffickers and makes deals with journalists to garner media attention.
Critics call operations like Rev. Kim’s not refugee relief but refugee creation in order to claim easy money. Others view Rev. Kim as heroic as he helps North Korean orphans escape tyranny and starvation. This, for the filmmaking team, begs the question: “How far into darkness can you go before you can’t see the light of your actions?”
The filmmakers are currently in Thailand following Reverend Kim and North Korean children.
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