Beyond Safe Haven
A Critique of Christian Custody of North Korean Migrants in China
Author: Ju Hui Judy Han
From providing the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter to facilitating travel for those seeking refuge, decentralized underground Christian networks in China have assisted countless undocumented North Korean migrants in situations both dire and desperate. However, with no systems for transparency or accountability in place, and with conservative religious agendas structuring spaces of aid and advocacy, these networks also produce troubling paradigms of custodial confinement and discipline. Drawing on field research in the United States, South Korea, and China, this article examines the way a Christian missionary safe house in China illustrates a political theology of custody through its employment of care and control as well as its attention to and detention of vulnerable populations. The author shows that missionaries justify their custodial authority by stressing good intentions and a pastoral prerogative, but deny the unequal power relations that undergird the very structure of their missionary activities for undocumented North Korean migrants.