Singing "We Shall Overcome" and "God Bless America," a small group of North Korean refugees staged a rally in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday to appeal for public support in their quest for political asylum.
Standing in front of the building at Olive and 6th streets that houses the U.S. Immigration Court, a dozen refugees who risked their lives to flee their homeland said they would have nowhere to go if the United States rejected their appeal. They were accompanied by more than two dozen Korean American supporters.
"We are at the end of the rope," said Chang Ho Kim, who applied for asylum in May. "My wife and our two children don't know how we will make it if we are not permitted to remain."
It was the second rally of its kind in Los Angeles and the first time refugees appeared at a public rally without wearing masks or other disguises. The event was coordinated by Koreatown attorney Roberto Hong, chairman of the Support Committee for North Korean Asylum Seekers.
About 70 North Korean refugees in the region have applied for asylum since the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 was implemented, Hong said. But an unfavorable ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals last year has prompted the community to take their case directly to the public and lawmakers.
"North Koreans are the saddest and most oppressed people in the world today, and they need our help," said Yong Sim Middleton, of the Christian Evangelical Movement, who came from Boston for the rally. "When I visited North Korea seven years ago, I was so heartbroken, I couldn't stop weeping."
Others also appealed for public support.
"America is a generous country. Let us open our hearts to these refugees and give them a chance to be productive citizens," said Peter Joo, a missionary with the New Covenant Baptist Church in Torrance.
As the group sang "We Shall Overcome" under the direction of the Rev. Dong Jin Kim, who led the rally, an African American passerby visiting from Detroit briefly joined the group and sang along.
"Stand up for human rights!" shouted Cassandra Henderson as she bid goodbye to the North Koreans.