Category: China

Fleeing North Korea often the start of even more hardship

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Now a university student in South Korea studying social work, Joy Kim spoke about the hardships her family experienced in North Korea and the challenges she faced as a result of being trafficked once she crossed the border to China. She said that for women like her, fleeing from North Korea is often the start of more hardship.

Kim’s family in North Korea was very poor, and when her stepmother tried to marry her off, she decided to flee to China in 2009. However, unable to pay the broker who helped pay off the guards that kept watch over the border, Kim was sold as a bride. “For three days, a broker paraded me around villages in northern China and crowds of men would gather to bid on me,” Kim said. “I was treated like an animal in a zoo.”

A man eventually paid the equivalent of $3,000 for her. He and his parents kept constant watch over her in fear she would escape, Kim said. Kim soon discovered she was pregnant. Because a pregnancy would make her eventual escape challenging, if not impossible, she said she tried to induce a miscarriage. “I climbed up the highest tree in the backyard and jumped down,” Kim said. “I also carried around heavy buckets of water.”

Despite her efforts, Kim gave birth to a baby girl after nine months. She said she resented her daughter at first, but before long the girl became her only reason to live.

It was around this time that a member of LiNK approached Kim and offered to help her cross the 3,000 miles that separated her from South Korea. The crossing, however, would be too dangerous for a child, he told her. Unable to pass up the opportunity, she decided to escape, determined to one day return to China to take her daughter to freedom.

Kim finally reached South Korea in 2013, four years after first leaving North Korea. Because of her harrowing experience, she said she wants to devote herself to helping North Korean women who have experienced the same trauma.

“Sixty percent of North Korean female refugees in China are trafficked into the sex trade,” Kim said. “For female North Korean refugees, escaping from North Korea is not the end of their journey, but the beginning of their fight for freedom.”

[Daily Bruin]

13 North Koreans trek through four countries toward freedom

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A group of 13 North Koreans recently arrived in Southeast Asia, after a grueling two-month journey which spanned 6,000 kilometers (more than 3700 miles), in a quest for asylum in South Korea.

Among the group that reached the Southeast Asian destination were a two-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, the rest ranging in age between their teens and 50s.

They were met by officials from the South Korean human rights group Now Action Unity Human rights (NAUH), who had been awaiting them.

Ji Seong-ho, founder of NAUH, who himself escaped North Korea in 2006, led the effort to rescue the 13. Ji said the latest rescue was both nerve-racking and moving.

He told RFA that many people that attempt to leave North Korea are arrested in China, as Beijing intensifies crackdowns on those who try to flee. He noted that the number of North Koreans fleeing to Southeast Asia has declined in recent years, but that many still make the journey hoping to escape to freedom.

[Radio Free Asia]

Some of the reasons North Koreans defect

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A group of North Korean defectors recently arrived in Southeast Asia after lengthy travels through China. Following are their responses as to why they left their homeland:

A female member of the group, explained she left North Korea in July because she was being forced to join the military and had to give up her dream of becoming a doctor. “It wasn’t hard for me because I kept thinking this is the only way I can achieve my dream and [secure] my future,” she added.

Another woman in the group, in her fifties, said she decided to seek asylum because she hated the incompetence of North Korean authorities, who she said make strong crackdowns on minor infractions. She also disliked the rampant corruption in North Korean society and said it was her wish to travel to other countries as she pleased.

She said that even North Korea’s rich are looking for ways to get out. “People think that the state just drains money from us. It would be nice if the state would let us be in charge of our own business,” said Lee. “So it means that the people are all saying ‘Let’s leave. We will be able to be in charge of our own affairs in South Korea, We can enjoy freedom. Let’s go look for our freedom there.’ Many of the rich people want to come because [the authorities] are giving them a hard time,” she said.

Another female defector identified as Lee is the mother of a 2-year-old. Her 12-year old niece, small enough to pass for a much younger child, was also a part of the group. Lee’s mother had escaped into South Korea 13 years ago. “Now that I’m here, I break into tears just thinking of seeing my mother. It’s been 13 years. I have tears just thinking about meeting her for the first time in 13 years,” Lee said.

[Radio Free Asia]

Kim Jong Un has ‘decided’ on U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul says

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Kim Jong Un has made up his mind about the timing of the next U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul’s spy agency said Monday.

Suh Hoon, the head of South Korea’s national intelligence service, told the National Assembly’s information committee the third official meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader could take place before the end of the year, News 1 and MoneyToday reported.

In preparation for the third summit, not counting the brief Trump-Kim encounter at the truce village of Panmunjom, working-level talks between Pyongyang and Washington could take place in November, or early December at the latest, the spy chief said, according to reports. (Last week, North Korea fired two projectiles as it warned of a “year-end deadline” for the United States.)

Suh also said Kim could visit China ahead of a third U.S.-North Korea summit, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of bilateral ties. Last week, sources in China told a South Korean newspaper that North Korea’s all-women’s Moranbong Band could tour Chinese cities in December, and that Chinese President Xi Jinping could attend a concert with Kim.


Cho Jin-hye’s story

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North Korean defector Cho Jin-hye was resettled in the United States, but she’s never had it easy.

Cho lost her father during the catastrophic North Korean famine of the late ’90s. Her family was notified of his death with a letter from the North Korean government, as he was in prison at the time …. His crime that he had gone to China to search for food. “He passed away from hunger and torture,” she said. “He had infections all over his body. They didn’t give him medicine or water.”

In 1998, as a child she escaped North Korea with her mother. They had relatives in China — her father’s stepbrother and his family — but they met them only once. “When we crossed the border, they did not help my family, so I never met with them again,” she said.

Out of options, Cho and her mother “stayed” with an ethnic Korean-Chinese man, living with him for four years.

“He was a drunkard,” she said. “After he drank he would start yelling at my mother, beating my mother, using a stick to beat me too, and my sister. We had a really difficult four years with him.”

Cho, a naturalized U.S. citizen who resettled in 2008, said a nine-year battle for her reputation has led her to believe that an online antagonist could be collaborating with the North Korean regime. Pyongyang’s propaganda service Uriminzokkiri has targeted Cho with a video that includes a “testimony” from a North Korean woman who claims Cho faked her identity and that she was, in fact, Korean-Chinese. The story aligns with the rumors that Cho says was started by her opponent. The official statement from North Korea has been upsetting, Cho said. Read more

North Korea, emboldened by Trump peril and Chinese allies, assumes harder line

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Successful sanctions evasion, economic lifelines from China and U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment woes may be among the factors that have emboldened North Korea in nuclear negotiations, analysts and officials say.

Both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un continue to play up the personal rapport they say they developed during three face-to-face meetings. But North Korea has said in recent days that it is losing patience, with two missile launches on Thursday, giving the United States until the end of the year to change its negotiating stance.

“Still, I think that Pyongyang has concluded they can do without a deal if they must,” Andray Abrahamian, a visiting scholar with George Mason University Korea, said. “The sad thing is I think that will lock in the current state of affairs, with its downsides for all stakeholders, for years to come.”

Trump’s reelection battle and the impeachment inquiry against him may have led Kim to overestimate North Korea’s leverage, said one diplomat in Seoul, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. “Trump is all Kim has. In order to denuclearize, Kim needs confidence that Trump will be reelected.”

Although United Nations sanctions remain in place, some trade with China appears to have increased, and political relations between Beijing and Pyongyang have improved dramatically.

A huge influx of Chinese tourists over the past year appears to be a major source of cash for the North Korean government, according to research by Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. Estimates that as many as 350,000 Chinese tourists have visited this year, potentially netting the North Korean authorities up to $175 million. That’s more than North Korea was making from the Kaesong Industrial Complex – jointly operated with South Korea before it was shuttered in 2016.

For now, North Korea seems inclined to avoid engaging further with the United States or South Korea until they make more concessions. “North Korea appears to be interested only in a deal under its terms to the exact letter,” said Duyeon Kim, with the Washington-based Center for a New American Security.


North Korean Authorities Crack Down on Illegal Cellphone Use

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Authorities in North Korea are conducting a crackdown on illegal cellphone use after confidential information was reportedly leaked about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s recent activities, local officials and traders told RFA’s Korean Service.

Illegal cellphones are believed to have been used to disseminate what were apparently sensitive details about Kim’s recent itinerary. A source said that although the crackdown is intended to protect the safety of Kim Jong Un, it is also having an unintended impact on the lives people living along the border with China.

“It’s tense on the border. Smugglers who need to communicate with Chinese partners using their illegal phones, and phone brokers who make money with their illegal phones by arrange calls to defectors in South Korea, they instantly went into hiding,” said a source. “Most of the illegal phone users have fled the area but the residents are afraid as [North Korean government] inspectors are making everyone feel uneasy,” the source added.  “The state security officials that the Central Committee dispatched are searching everywhere [for illegal phone users]. I have a feeling that something serious is about to go down,” said the source.

Another source, a resident of Ryanggang, said even border security has been affected over the leak. “Border guards, who normally work with smugglers are tightening up security. … “In the past, even [in tense situations], smugglers could still bribe the border guards to bring in their illegal goods, but now the situation is so serious that smuggling things across the river is just not happening,” the resident said. “[Both] the smugglers and the guards are laying low because they don’t want to get into trouble until this tense political issue [is resolved,]” the source added.

[Radio Free Asia]

Information is key to liberating the minds of the North Korean people

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Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to the U.K., who in 2016 became the highest-ranking North Korean diplomat to defect to South Korea, says disseminating information to younger North Koreans is “very important” in spurring people to reject the state’s ideological control and authoritarian rule.

A North Korean defector, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says he worked with South Korea’s Defense Ministry on radio broadcasts targeting North Korean soldiers near the border area for three years “mainly discussing North Korea media’s incorrect reports.” But, he says, his role was discontinued in early 2018.

Losing this job was particularly galling, he adds, because he was inspired to defect in 2009 after listening to similar illegal foreign media broadcasts for years. “My experience of listening to radio in North Korea changed my life,” the defector says.

With the South Korean–based efforts to both expose North Korean human rights issues and educate people inside North Korea about the outside world under pressure, some international organizations are stepping up their activities via China.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF), a New York-based NGO, claims to have smuggled approximately 100,000 data storage devices into North Korea via China over the past three years. The foundation sends donated USB flash drives and SD cards loaded with entertainment programs like movies and soap operas into the country. The devices often include news clippings and broadcasts, testimonials from defectors and political material such as translations of books about the fall of the Soviet Union and the Arab Spring.

The organization estimates that each device reaches about 10 people, implying the material has been seen by as many as 1.3 million North Koreans, or 1 in every 20 people in the country.

“Information is key to liberating the minds of the North Korean people,” says Alex Gladstein, chief strategy officer of HRF.


North Korean scam defection scheme

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North Korean leaders Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un have done a lot to deter defection, in collaboration with Chinese leaders Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping. As one such incentive, North Korea offers those rural Chinese who turn in North Korean defectors 2m3‘s worth of logs per defector captured on Chinese soil and repatriated.

Life as a North Korean defector is rough. Ms. Sohn, a 36-year-old North Korean woman, had lived in South Korea for four years when she had her husband decided to set up a scam defection scheme. They collected brokerage fees from North Korean defectors in South Korea, promising to escort their clients’ families from China to South Korea. But in actuality what they did after receiving the money was convene a total of 43 defectors in China and then arrange for North Korean Embassy officials to come and forcefully repatriate them back to the DPRK.

The couple was rewarded with a vacation in Pyongyang, before returning to their hometown of Hyesan. Upon their return, the people of Hyesan all cursed the woman when they found out what she had done to all these would-be defectors, with curses like: “A thunderbolt will strike that human-garbage devil for putting those innocent people in an unescapable political prison!”

The locals in Hyesan didn’t view the defectors as state betrayers, they simply grieved their fates.

The defectors themselves were dragged to a reformatory, this result planting within North Koreans deep grudges against the government.

[Written by Tae-il Shim, is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector who arrived in South Korea in 2018.]

For North Korean defectors, fear may never leave

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Dae Hyeon Park was 17 when he fled North Korea with his mother, grandfather and sister in 2007. He says the fear never leaves him. “Most of North Koreans have the experience – the fear [of] death. … I mean 30,000 North Korean defectors are also facing those kind of problems and the fears – even now, every day.”

The East Asia Research Director for Amnesty International, Roseann Rife, said of North Koreans who manage to slip into China are tough and there is not always a happy ending. “We hear stories of people who actually spend most of their time in hiding, trying to avoid being noticed,” she said. “And it is very common in detention centers in China for torture to occur. A lot of the judicial system is based on unfortunately, confessions, and many of these confessions are extracted through torture.”

And even those who manage to reach South Korea, she adds, “They are coming under greater scrutiny and being detained and questioned about this transiting across the border.”

They also struggle to integrate into a very different country to the one they have left behind. They stand out because of their strong dialects, poor education and short heights, caused by severe malnourishment. Rife said of North Koreans in the south: “They often find it difficult to integrate and find jobs, and it’s a very difficult transition for many of them.”

The owner of a factory near Seoul which employs defectors from the north requests not be named because of fear of what the regime in the north could do to her brother, who is still there.

Once, she shared her real name and hometown with a client, who subsequently returned to the north. “So if that client was really a spy and exposed everything to the state, her younger brother could be in danger,” she said, through an interpreter.

Family members in South Korea paid NZ$80,000 (more than US$50,000) to brokers for the family of Dae Hyeon Park to make the dangerous crossing into China and later South Korea. It turns out the reality for those finally arriving in South Korea can be very different than the South Korean soap operas shown in the north.