It’s been a year since Americans – including most humanitarian workers – have been banned from North Korea, following the death of Otto Warmbier, an American university student whose imprisonment left him in a vegetative state.
By Joseph Yi, Christianity Today
Last month, the ban was renewed for a second year. Since its implementation, the State Department has granted a special travel passport only in “extremely limited circumstances.”
While containing Pyongyang’s military ambitions, taking a normative stand against human rights violations, and protecting Americans abroad are commendable policy objectives, the travel ban limits humanitarian and economic projects that connect North Koreans with the outside world. Particularly impacted are nearly 70 faith-based organizations (FBOs), most of them Christian, which during the past two decades have legally channeled hundreds of (mostly volunteer) workers and thousands of tourists to North Korea, officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
They originate from the United States (e.g., Christian Friends of Korea), Canada (Reah International), Finland (Fida International), Germany (Christliches Missionswerk Joshua), and South Korea (Eugene Bell Foundation Korea, Green Tree International), among other countries. As a Korean American political science professor, I (Yi) interviewed more than 20 workers and tourists, mostly US citizens, linked with faith-based organizations.
The FBO workers and volunteers, whom I interviewed, acknowledge the complications of international tourism to the DPRK and urge would-be tourists to exercise prudence and follow applicable laws. At the same time, they also highlight many positive developments in North Korea—a country of more than 25 million people—that are directly related to tourism and humanitarian work.
I met Gabe Segoine, who has completed 19 trips into North Korea since 2007 both as the founder of Love North Korea Ministries, which drills wells in villages to access clean water, and as a tour group leader. I also met Wondong Lee, who cannot legally visit North Korea as a South Korean citizen, but as a member of Reah International, he actively volunteers his time and money to support the FBO-linked workers and tourists who can.