End the travel ban to North Korea

End the Travel Ban to North Korea


LIFT (Let Individuals Freely Travel) is a campaign to reinstate the long-standing US policy that allowed US citizens to travel freely to Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (aka North Korea).

Before 2017, Americans were able to travel to North Korea to engage in a broad range of meaningful people-to-people exchanges. They included families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War, humanitarian workers, and many others engaged in educational and cultural exchanges. Unfortunately, that all came to an abrupt halt when the Trump administration ordered a ban on travel to North Korea in 2017.

One of the most heartbreaking and enduring human costs of the unresolved Korean War is the more than 70-year separation of families. The 2017 ban has increased this heartbreak by cutting off the already-limited means of contact between families long-divided by the ongoing war.

People-to-people interactions are critical for long-term peace and mutual cooperation. Suspending them not only undermines genuine efforts for peace on the Korean Peninsula but exacerbates the ongoing US-North Korea conflict, which endangers the security of all.

We call on the Biden administration to reverse the 2017 ban and allow US citizens to once again travel freely to North Korea.

Download a fact sheet on Why the U.S. Should End the Travel Ban to North Korea.

This campaign is a joint initiative of the Korea Peace Network, the Korea Peace Now! Grassroots Network, and Peace Treaty Now.

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Lift the travel ban to North Korea

Sign the petition calling on the US State Department to allow US citizens to once again travel to North Korea.

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On June 23, 2021, LIFT (Let Individuals Freely Travel)—a joint campaign of the Korea Peace Network, Korea Peace Now! Grassroots Network and Peace Treaty Now—hosted “LIFT for Peace: End the Travel Ban to North Korea,” a discussion with humanitarian workers, separated family members, and others who have traveled extensively to North Korea about the harms caused by the US travel ban on North Korea and how you can support our campaign to lift the ban and allow people to travel freely.

Read Stories About People Affected by the North Korea Travel Ban

Aiyoung Choi
Aiyoung Choi (second row, holding scarf, second from right) was one of 30 women peace activists who crossed the DMZ in 2015. Photo by Niana Liu.

Aiyoung Choi

I was born in Hamheung in 1940. Three years later our family moved to Shanghai. When WWII ended, people streamed into our home and, embracing each other with tears of joy, shouted "mansei!" Japan had finally surrendered, the brutal occupation was over, and Korea was liberated!

For weeks my father brought home groups of Korean teen-aged boys — disheveled and starving. They had been conscripted by Japan to work in their military camps in China, then hastily abandoned as they retreated. My mother helped bathe, de-bug, and feed them. On the Voice of America, my father called out each boy's name, age, hometown, and return date. All over Korea, families wept with joy hearing that their sons were alive, and coming home.

In 2015 I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join 30 women activists from around the world to cross the DMZ, calling for peace. Having lived all my life in the diaspora, the very act of setting foot in North Korea changed my life forever. It is my fervent hope that all of us will do whatever we can to make crossing the DMZ an open, peaceful and enduring reality.

Gary Yong Ki Pak
Young [Ryang] Eung-whan’s visit to his village in Pyeongan-nam-do circa 1931.

Gary Yong Ki Pak

I did not know my harabeogi, Pak Ho-byeong from Anju, Pyeongan-nam-do, who arrived in the Hawaiian islands in 1905 on one of the last boats from Korea before the Japanese prohibited Koreans to immigrate; or my halmeoni, Kim Sook-ahn from Wonsan, Hamyeong-nam-do, who arrived in 1914 as a picture bride. Both died before I was born. My oe harabeogi, Young [Ryang] Eung-whan of Pyeongan-nam-do, arrived in Hawaii in 1905; and my oe halmeoni, Lim Ok-Soon of Kaeseong, Kyeonggi-do, arrived in Hawai‘i also as a picture bride in 1914.

I remember my oe halmeoni swirling in dance with half-closed eyes as she returned to her childhood in a place long left, nearly 5,000 miles away. Through her stories, I learned about Korea’s past: that Korea’s boundaries are not limited by the Yalu and Tuman rivers, and that Joseon’s land extended far into Manchuria; that Korea had endured many injustices from neighboring countries, especially the bloody and oppressive Japanese Imperial government.

I often wondered what it would be like to go to Korea and visit the land where my grandparents had grown up and what had become of our families in the northern provinces. Countless families have been divided because of Korea’s division. Let us lift the US travel ban to reunite, not prolong the division of, long-separated families.

Kate Youngjoo ShimKate Youngjoo Shim

My grandmother came to the U.S when she was almost 70 years old so that she would have a better chance of going to North Korea to see her oldest son, who became separated from her during the Korean War. As a mother of two sons myself, I cannot imagine the agony she went through, unable to see her son for over 40 years. Before the 2017 travel ban, my grandmother was able to go to North Korea and reunite with her son and grandchildren. After four decades of separation, she was so happy to see them.

I know that there are many Korean mothers and fathers like my grandmother, and they are getting very old. With the travel ban to North Korea in place, so many divided families are suffering, not being able to see their ailing parents, or children and siblings. Both of my parents were separated from their families in North Korea, so all my close relatives are in North Korea. I want to visit them, but I cannot due to the travel ban.

I believe in human rights, and the most basic human right I can think of is the right to see your own children and parents. Please let us visit our family in North Korea before it is too late. Please support the campaign to remove the travel ban to North Korea.

Soobok Kim
Sunday afternoon in Pyongyang. Men playing chess at a park in 2015. Photo credit: Soobok Kim

Soobok Kim

My father had four brothers, and two of them died in the Korean War. My cousin, who was only 14 years old then, was killed by a military transport vehicle. My siblings and I almost died when a US military aircraft shot at us and the bullets went through our legs.

My younger sister was only three years old, I was six, and my older sister was nine at the time. All 20 of my cousins became orphans, and they began to work in factories, bus depots, or on farms. There was no luxury of getting an education after the war.

After more than 70 years, the Korean War remains unresolved. We need to end the war, and the most necessary thing is to visit and learn about each other. This is why the travel ban must be abolished.

Ed KangEd Kang

In 1950, when the Korean War broke out, I was a refugee boy from Pyongyang to Seoul. Only my father and I fled, leaving behind my mother and two younger brothers, because it was a dangerous trip for women and young children. Leaving home on December 5, 1950, we walked all the way to Seoul (156.03 miles) and arrived on Christmas eve. We had said goodbye to our beloved family hoping to see them again in a week or a month, but it took more than 30 years.

On March 25, 1981, I was able to return to Pyongyang and reunite with my mother and younger brother. I arrived at Pyongyang airport and was welcomed by members of the Support Committee for Overseas Koreans. I saw my mother who looked like my grandmother 30 years before standing there with the family. For 10 days, I had the happiest days with my mother and family in Pyongyang. I have visited North Korea a number of times since then. There are millions of Koreans separated from their families due to the war. Many have died without seeing their loved ones and there are still many who are eager to see each other before they die. Time is running out. This is why we must end the Korean War and lift the travel ban.

Choon LimChoon Lim

I was born in Nampo city, about 30 miles west of Pyongyang. When the Korean War broke out, the city was heavily bombed by US bombers. So my father sent my mother, my brother and me to my grandfather’s home in the south. Later, when the border at the 38th parallel closed, we became a separated family.

In 1998, at the age of 52, I had the great fortune to return to my hometown. I went to North Korea with high hopes of seeing my dad, but I was 6 years late. At the charnel house that kept his ashes, I cried, “Why?” It was a huge burst of what I had kept inside me for 46 years. I returned to my hometown, Nampo, and reunited with my uncle and aunt, and met my half-siblings, cousins, nieces, and nephews. On my way back to Chicago, I felt peace in my mind but a bittersweet one. Since then, I have visited my hometown seven more times.

Every separated family has a final chapter to close — to find out where we belong and gain peace of mind. After being separated for so long, we must go back home to close the final chapter. My last trip to see my family was in 2014. Due to the travel ban, I am cut off from my family yet again. I am now 75 years old, and I don’t know how many years I have left on this planet. I wish to see them again soon.