A blog by Grant Montgomery, co-founder of Family Care Foundation, a 501c3 that provides emergency services and sustained development for families on 5 continents. This site highlights the plight of 300,000 North Koreans who have fled their country due to the brutal oppression of a Stalinist North Korean regime, as well as those still living in North Korea.
The number of North Koreans defecting to South Korea dropped to its lowest
in nearly two decades last year, Seoul said Monday, continuing a downward trend
as Pyongyang tightens controls on movement.
About 1,047 North Koreans arrived in the democratic South last year, down
from 1,137 in 2018, according to data released by the unification ministry.
This was the lowest figure since 2001. (This number 1,047 relates specifically
to those arriving in the South, rather than those leaving the North.)
The vast majority of defectors from the impoverished North go first to
China. They sometimes stay there for several years before making their way to
the South, often via a third country.
Arrivals to South Korea peaked at 2,914 in 2009, but have mostly declined
since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un came into power in late 2011.
Women account for the lion’s share of defectors, making up around 81 per
cent of last year’s arrivals. It is easier for women to leave the North as men
all have assigned jobs, making any absence easier to spot for the authorities.
Sources in China told Seoul-based online newspaper Daily NK that Beijing had strengthened its efforts to crack down on North Korea defectors flocking to China.
The number of defectors increased notably in April and May last year when the weather became warm enough that people could cross the Yalu River or hide in the forest more easily, according to the source.
The source added that even brokers, who help North Koreans to defect in
exchange for money, are reluctant to help defectors these days due to the
rising number of arrest cases by the Chinese authorities.
Chinese authorities are reportedly working with some brokers while tracking the history of mobile phone usage to locate defectors, the source added.
Another source in China told Daily NK that there had been an increasing number of cases of the Chinese authorities investigating defectors instead of repatriating them back to the North. The authorities even collected the personal details of defectors in a move to store and manage them as if they were Chinese citizens., taking photos and collecting fingerprints.
Daily NK learned recently that Chinese police investigated a group of female defectors from North Korea –rather than immediately deporting them back to North Korea.
A source based in China told Daily NK on December 12 that the police in a village in Liaoning Province rounded up “dozens of North Korean women who had defected.” They were questioned by the foreign affairs division of the Ministry of Public Security in three interrogation sessions. The source reported that the Chinese officials “asked the women about their personal relations, their relatives, and their residence back in North Korea.”
The Chinese police also asked very detailed questions about the women’s’ defection process, including their defection routes. One source told Daily NK that the officials “asked which paths they took to sneak into China, and whether they defected independently or had a Chinese trafficker who facilitated their defection. They also asked who the identities of the traffickers were.”
“The Chinese police officers
furthermore photographed the women both from the front and in profile, and they
took their fingerprints,” a source added. The pictures will most likely added
to a facial recognition system which the Chinese authorities have adopted to
both maintain law and order and control the citizens.
“This was the first time that the
Chinese police conducted [such] sessions with North Korean defector women in
this manner. In the past, they would have been deported immediately,” a source
in China said. “It seems like China’s policy towards North Korean defectors is
These measures are interpreted as Chinese officialdom’s response to a social issue – the abrupt departure of North Korean women to South Korea, leaving both their Chinese husbands and children behind.
Sources reported an incident to Daily NK in which a North Korean woman was abused by her Chinese husband and attempted to return to North Korea. “She was discovered by the Chinese border patrol and the police brought her back to her husband,” a source from China explained.
It is very rare for female North
Korean defectors to avoid being deported back to North Korea.
“There have recently been fewer
investigations and deportations of women who defected from North Korea. Many
are content to stay there rather than continue their journey to South Korea,” a
source said. “Those married to Chinese men don’t need to risk defection to
South Korea anymore if the Chinese authorities officially recognize their
residence in the country.”
As the year draws to a close, North Korea’s actions are
being closely watched, after a top North Korean official warned that it might
deliver “a Christmas gift” to the US if there’s no progress on
lifting sanctions. US defense officials have said they’re expecting a long-range ballistic missile test.
a source familiar with the North Korean leadership’s current mindset told CNN
that chances are “very low” that North Korea will actually conduct a
provocative test like a satellite launch, firing an ICBM, or detonating a
nuclear weapon, because those acts would be considered too provocative for the
likes of China and Russia, Pyongyang’s two most important international trading
South Koreans overwhelmingly reject the Trump
administration’s calls to pay more money for U.S. troops stationed in the
country, according to a survey released Monday, with only 4 percent of
respondents saying that Seoul should meet the U.S. demands and a quarter
suggesting it refuse to pay rather than negotiate.
A clear majority of South Koreans favor only a relatively modest increase in funding for the hosting of U.S. troops, rather than the more substantial amount demanded by the Trump administration. The data also showed that if no agreement could be reached between Washington and Seoul on the costs of hosting the troops, a majority of South Koreans prefer reducing the number of U.S. troops in South Korea, while about 1 in 10 said that all U.S. troops should be removed.
President Trump has long complained that foreign nations were taking advantage of the U.S. military, and repeatedly returns to issues related to the cost of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea. His administration demanded that South Korea increase its contribution to the funding of U.S. troops five-fold to nearly $5 billion, according to officials on both sides. That amount has prompted significant controversy in South Korea, where talks with U.S. officials broke down in November; the next round of talks is due to begin this week.
The vast majority of South Koreans — 94 percent — consider their country’s relationship with the United States vital for their national security, with 92 percent supporting the alliance and 62 percent favoring closer ties with the United States even if it harmed relations with China, South Korea’s neighboring economic and political giant. Just about three-quarters of South Koreans favored the long-term stationing of troops in South Korea. But few South Koreans agreed with the U.S. demands for money; 26 percent said the country should refuse any increase in costs, and 68 percent said South Korea should negotiate a lower cost. A scant 4 percent said South Korea should meet the full U.S. request.
Song Hong Ryon’s mother fled North Korea in the late 1990s in search of food and work in China, like tens of thousands of other North Korean women did to avoid a famine at home. Many women ended up being sold to poor Chinese farmers as brides, before fleeing again and moving to South Korea, which considers the North part of its territory and therefore embraces North Korean refugees. Many of the children of these marriages, if they’re able to reunite with their mothers in the South, are then alienated and frustrated as they struggle to navigate a strange culture, cut off from friends and many of their relatives.
North Korean mothers lived in China in constant fear of being captured and repatriated to the North, where they could face torture and lengthy detention. When they made the risky trip to South Korea, they often left their children behind in China. The lucky ones, after getting jobs and saving money in South Korea, arranged for their children and husbands to travel to the country. But some children were abandoned, or their fathers refused to leave their hometowns and move to a place where they had no relatives or friends.
Three years after her arrival from China, Song
Hong Ryon a half-North Korean, half-Chinese 19-year-old has made only two South
Korean-born friends and says she’s often been hurt by little things, like when
people ask if she’s from China because of her accent.
Song said she was 10 when her mother left their
home in the northeastern Chinese city of Yanji in 2010. A year later, her
father also went to South Korea, leaving her with her grandparents. She only
reunited with her parents in 2016 in South Korea after a six-year separation.
Last December, her mother died of lung cancer.
“I came to blame God,” said Song, a devout Christian. “I asked why this had to
happen to me.”
Song’s bilingual ability helped her receive
special admission to a university near Seoul. Her first semester starts in
March, and she’s excited and nervous about meeting her mostly South Korea-born
A half-Chinese, half-North Korean young woman — who wishes to be identified only by her family name, Choe, because she worries that media publicity could damage her life in South Korea – told AP her story.
Years before, brokers had lured Choe’s mother to cross the border into China with the promise of a job — before selling her to her husband for $710. In early 2017, her mother fled their home in Dunhua city in northeastern China after witnessing a fellow North Korean woman in their village being arrested and sent back to North Korea.
Last year, 20-year-old Choe came to Seoul from China to reunite with her North Korean refugee mother. She speaks only a little Korean and has no South Korean friends. She has yet to travel alone beyond Seoul and often spends time chatting online with her friends back in China.
Upon arrival in South Korea, children like Choe are given citizenship because their mothers are now South Korean nationals. But because they don’t have a direct link to North Korea, they cannot legally receive some other special favors that North Korea-born refugees enjoy. Those missed benefits include the right to bypass the highly competitive national university entrance exam, get a college tuition waiver and, for men, choose whether to perform two years of mandatory military service. (Choe said her brother is still in China because of worries that he’ll have to serve in the military.)
Choe wants to improve her Korean and go to a South Korean university, which means she must compete with South Korean students in the university entrance exam. But language is a problem. Choe’s mother says: “If I try to go deeper in our conversation in Korean, she won’t understand…”
“Half-Chinese, half-North Korean children mostly give up on opportunities to develop themselves, … and combined with South Korea’s social bias against them … this eats away at them fulfilling their potential,” said Kim Doo Yeon, the principal of the alternative Great Vision School in Uijeongbu, just north of Seoul. Read more
Twenty years ago, North Korean mothers began slipping into China, and many left behind half-Chinese, half-North Korean children in China when they managed to gain entrance to South Korea.
Even when in South Korea, such children often face crises in identity. They’re often confused about whether they’re Chinese, South Korean or North Korean refugees. Because neither parent is originally from South Korea, they don’t have help assimilating into the country’s brutally competitive and fast-paced society.
Now, with such children reaching adulthood,
their plight could soon become a bigger social issue in South Korea. According
to the South Korean Education Ministry, about 1,550 half-Chinese, half-North
Korean children were enrolled in primary, middle and high schools in South
Korea as of April this year, along with about 980 North Korea-born students,
though the true numbers are likely higher.
In recent years, the government has tried to
help by providing $3,390 to each of their families as well as dispatching more
bilingual instructors to schools. Shim Yang-sup, principal of the Seoul-based
alternative South-North Love School, said the children should be supported
because they represent an untapped resource, with the ability to often speak
two languages and navigate both Korean and Chinese cultures. However, in May,
an opposition lawmaker proposed providing China-born North Korean children with
the same assistance given to North Korea-born refugees.
Kim Hyun-seung, 20, from Tianjin, China, arrived in South Korea three years ago to reunite with his mother, who came six years earlier. Tall and slim, Kim said he wouldn’t mind serving in the South Korean military and dreams of being a chef in a French restaurant. But he doesn’t want a serious girlfriend out of fear they’d “become a couple like my father and mother that gives pain to their child, fails to live together and worries about many things.”
Eleven North Koreans seeking to defect to South Korea have been detained in
Vietnam since Nov. 23 and are seeking help to avoid being repatriated, a South
Korean activist group said on Monday. The eight women ranging in age from early
20s to 50s, and three men in their 20s, were detained by border guards in
northern Vietnam two days after crossing from China, and are being held in the
city of Lang Son, the Seoul-based Justice
for North Korea said in a statement.
Currently, Vietnam is detaining all the defectors. After several of the
women fainted, the Vietnamese government decided against forcibly sending them
to China, according to Peter Jung, the head of Justice for North Korea which supports North Korean asylum-seekers.
Jung told VOA’s Korean Service that one of the defectors who had a cellphone
contacted the South Korean Embassy in Vietnam asking for help, but he had not
heard from them since Friday.
Jung added the Seoul embassy’s subsequent silence had spurred him to
publicize the situation, fearing that without an international response the
defectors could be forcibly repatriated. “The embassy told them it will take
appropriate measures to help them,” said Jung. “But the defectors have not
heard from the embassy” since Friday.
The defectors asked the South Korean government to provide asylum in Seoul
so they can avoid being deported to North Korea. In a video clip sent by Jung,
a woman was nursing other people who appeared to be ill.
The South Korean foreign ministry said it was aware of the case and had been
in touch with the Vietnamese government. “Our government has been making
necessary efforts to ensure the North Korean defectors living abroad are sent
to a desired place without being forcibly repatriated,” the ministry said in a
If the 11 defectors are sent to China, they would most likely be deported
back to North Korea, where they could face severe punishment such as forced
labor, torture and even execution.
As of September, at least 771 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea
this year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry, which handles
relations with the North.
The Ministry of Unification in Seoul estimates that, as of June 2019, some 33,022 North Korean defectors had entered South Korea. Of these, 23,786 – about 72 percent – were female.
Throughout 2019 though, that trend has increased, with female defectors accounting for 85 percent of the total defector population. Data indicates that 17,566 North Korean female defectors are in the age range of 20-40, and the vast majority are mothers.
During the process of fleeing their impoverished home country, many women
are forced into sex and labor trafficking, often are sold to Chinese men and
ultimately forced to marry. Many have to leave their children behind as they
attempt to carve out a way to survive.
One such mother Jeong Ah has gone on to serve as founder and executive director of Tongil Mom (which translates to “Unification Mom”), an NGO that focuses on issues related to the mental health and well-being of defector mothers. “I gave birth to four children, but, tragically, I only have one child that I am living with. Looking back, I feel that I was abandoned by my own birth parents, and I feel so terrible that I myself did the same thing my parents did to me,” Jeong Ah said. “I feel a great sense of tragedy and sadness that I have done this to my children. That is part of the reason I started this organization, to deal with the hurt and the pain so many other defector women go through in forced separation.”
“The Chinese government does not give North Koreans Chinese citizenship, [but classifies] North Korean defectors as illegal border crossers,” the latest Tongil Mom report states. “They even send them back to North Korea by force.”
Defectors thus live every moment with the risk of being discovered and
forcibly returned to North Korea. If pregnant, the defectors also face the
threat of a forced abortion on return. The looming fear and routinely brutal
living conditions in China propels many women to flee their children and
families once again and relocate to South Korea.