Category: North Korean refugee

What happens to North Korean defectors after being forcibly returned from China

Posted on by

Leaving North Korea without permission is a criminal offense. So North Koreans forcibly returned after fleeing face incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso, or re-education correctional facilities), short-term forced-labor camps (rodong danllyeindae), temporary detention facilities (jipkyulso), or possible execution.

Research by Human Right Watch and other groups has found pervasive abuses and horrid conditions in North Korea’s political prison camps, including meager rations that keep detainees on the edge of starvation, almost no medical care, lack of adequate shelter and clothes, repeated mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions.

Yet China routinely forcibly repatriates North Koreans, labeling them as illegal “economic migrants”. Forcing North Korean refugees back to their country constitutes refoulement, that is, sending someone back to a place where they would face threats to their lives or freedom. As a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, as well as to the 1984 Convention against Torture, China is specifically obligated not to force back anyone who would be at risk of persecution or torture upon return.

For North Koreans who are returned, if not sent to political prisoner camps, authorities may instead impose sentences of 2 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps. Inmates in ordinary prison camps face forced labor in dangerous working conditions, repeated mistreatment by guards, and little nutritious food or medical care.

A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu), who previously worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials under his command tortured every returnee to find out where they went in China, whom they contacted, and what they had done while outside North Korea.

The 2014 United Nations Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China.

[Human Rights Watch]

North Korean woman said she was “living like an animal” in her country

Posted on by

A woman who defected from North Korea last year planned and executed her escape on her own, she said, because North Korean authorities have caught and killed most of the brokers who used to smuggle people over the border to South Korea.

She was fed up with “living like an animal” in her country where she struggled daily to survive.

To make her escape, she crossed the frozen river that runs along the China border, climbed over a barbed wire fence, and walked for two hours through knee-deep piles of snow in the middle of the night. In one hand she carried poison, in case she was caught by soldiers guarding the border.

Eventually she came upon a small village, where she hoped to find other North Koreans who had escaped and would be sympathetic to her cause. She approached a house with a light in the window, and found a Chinese man instead. She begged to make just one phone call to friends of friends living in South Korea. “The man was very kind, he offered me food and offered me a warm place to stay, and so I was able to eat and he helped me contact my friends.”

She eventually made her way to South Korea, and was astounded to find hot and cold running water, and working toilets. “The toilets — there is water in there, and it cleans out right away. That was just the most amazing thing.”

She recently made it to the U.S. “I [was] shocked when I was in South Korea, but when I came to America, … it just blew my mind. I grew up being told Americans are all like wolves, and our enemy that we must destroy, and I was bombarded with that kind of education,” she added. “But when I actually came and met Americans, they were very warm and kind people.”

Now in the States, she plans to pursue a career in medicine, and hopes one day to return to her neighborhood in a free North Korea. “I believe this is not just my dream, but it’s a dream of all those people who escape from North Korea, and also the people who still suffer there,” she said.

[The Daily Caller]

The road to life in South Korea was not an easy one

Posted on by

As a former North Korean military officer, Kim Yong-Hwa says he knows all too well the tribulations facing the thousands of defectors on the run for their lives from the repressive Kim regime of North Korea. Now in his mid-60s, he spent over nine years imprisoned in three different countries during his decade-plus journey to true freedom.

After being accused of disloyalty to an authoritarian regime, his journey began with the intention of committing suicide. But instead of taking his own life, Kim told The Christian Post that he ultimately discovered the truth that the Kim Jong Un regime had kept hidden from North Koreans — Christianity.

After walking through much of China, Kim finally arrived in Vietnam but was arrested there trying to climb onto a commercial vessel from South Korea. When only days away from being repatriated, he hit a Vietnamese policeman with a tray of food which landed him a two-year jail sentence in Vietnam. It was during this time, that Kim was exposed to Christianity through an interpreter.

He eventually made it to South Korea, but he was again imprisoned for three years on allegations that he was a North Korean “spy.” After two years in a South Korean prison, Kim eventually migrated to Japan where the Japanese government was also told that he was an “international spy,” and where Kim was then confined to a prison camp for three years.

He returned to South Korea in 2001, and in 2005, officially launched the North Korean Refugees Human Rights Association, a ministry that helps other North Korean defectors facing a similar situation in China find their way to safety. There are an estimated 230,000 North Korean defectors wandering around China at risk of being arrested and repatriated to North Korea, where they could face execution or life in labor camps for the crime of defection.

[The Christian Post]

Human Rights Watch speak in defense of North Korean defectors detained in China

Posted on by

China should not forcibly deport seven detained North Koreans who face a grave risk of torture and other abuses if returned to North Korea, Human Rights Watch said.

South Koreans assisting relatives of the group’s members told Human Rights Watch that the three women, three men, and a pre-teen girl in the group are being detained in Liaoning province. Some of the group left North Korea in recent weeks and others have lived for several years in China’s border area. Chinese authorities apprehended them on April 28, 2019.

“China should not send these seven people back to North Korea where they face torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and other horrors,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Beijing should immediately allow them to travel to a third country.”

“China should end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans,” Robertson said. “China should protect these seven North Koreans, both complying with its international obligations and sending Pyongyang a message that it won’t ignore North Korea’s abuses.”

[Human Rights Watch]

North Korea planted GPS tracking device in child’s toy to locate her parents

Posted on by

Agents of North Korea reportedly planted a GPS tracking device in the toy frog of a young girl they knew was about to defect to her parents who had already fled and were now living in South Korea.

Testimony delivered on Thursday, provided by the Caleb Mission, an organization which supports defectors and refugees,  revealed that North Korea used a GPS device implanted in a child’s toy. The parents of the girl had successfully defected to the South, and were attempting to orchestrate her escape.

Before the girl left North Korea for China, a man gave the nine-year-old girl a stuffed frog and said: “This is a gift for you. Give it to your mom,” The Chosun Ilbo reported.

After she arrived at the Chinese safe house, the trafficker inspected the frog and discovered the GPS tracking device inside of it. Alarmed, he left the device undisturbed, fearing he might trigger a raid of the house if he removed it.

According to The Chosun Ilbo, from testimony delivered by defectors it was revealed that North Korea is also using GPS devices to capture traffickers who help people escape the regime.

[Newsweek]

North Korea’s “Red Dawn” campaign to target defectors

Posted on by

In December last year, the personal information of nearly 1,000 defectors from North Korea was stolen by hackers working for Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The data was taken from a database belonging to South Korea’s resettlement agency via a computer infected with malicious software at the Hana center in the southern city of Gumi, Reuters reported. The Hana center is one of 25 institutes that help some 32,000 North Korean defectors adapt to a new life in the South, offering jobs, medical aid, and more.

Months before news of the hack emerged, cybersecurity company McAfee warned that North Korean hackers, known as “Sun Team,” were actively using malware on mobile phones to spy on Android devices used by defectors.

The malware is spread through social media networks, including Facebook, and used to steal personal information such as photos, contact lists, text messages, and more. Around 100 victims were targeted via the Google Play store.

Some of that information was then used to create fake social media accounts by stealing the victims’ identities. The campaign was dubbed “Red Dawn” by McAfee. It was the second Sun Team operation targeting defectors that McAfee had uncovered in 2018.

[Newsweek]

Activists urge China to not repatriate North Korean defectors

Posted on by

Activists have been urging China not to repatriate seven North Koreans who were detained in an eastern Chinese province after leaving their homeland. The group, which includes a nine-year-old girl, fled North Korea and were then detained by Chinese authorities in the northeast province of Liaoning, according to activists.

China regularly sends defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment including forced labor, imprisonment, torture, or execution. According to a 2017 Human Rights Watch report, China has increased the number of guards and laid more barbed wire fencing along the border.

The nine-year-old girl’s mother, who left North Korea several years ago and now lives in South Korea, participated in a recent demonstration in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul. “I’m worried about my young daughter and her safety … it’s been three years since I’ve seen my daughter,” said the woman, her voice quivering.

Though not common, China has in the past released North Korean defectors. In 2018, China freed 30 defectors, following international pressure, according to South Korean media reports. Many activists complain North Korean human rights have become less of a priority amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Though China has signed the United Nations refugee convention, it does not recognize North Koreans as refugees. It instead sees them as illegal economic migrants.

[VoA]

North Korean defector Oh Chong Song

Posted on by

It was a dash for freedom that was caught on camera and captivated the world: a North Korean defector being peppered with bullets as he tried to flee his authoritarian homeland at the Demiiltarized Zone. But in his first television interview with a U.S. broadcaster, defector Oh Chong Song said he does not blame his former colleagues for shooting him five times as he ran for the border in November 2017.

“In their situation I would have fired the gun. It’s not a matter of friendship,” he told NBC News on Monday, almost 18 months after his dramatic escape. “I understand them because if I were in their shoes I would have done the same thing.”

On Nov. 13, 2017, surveillance cameras captured the moment Oh smashed through a military checkpoint in a green jeep and raced toward the DMZ, members of his own unit chasing him down. Had he been caught, Oh says he “would have been either sent to a concentration camp for political prisoners or, worse, executed by firing squad.”

His escape bid crunched to a halt yards from the boundary as his jeep became stuck in a ditch. With the chasing North Korean soldiers almost upon him, he climbed out of the car and started to run, the border just yards away.

“I was extremely terrified,” he said. “I watch this video once in a while and every time I see it, I realize the fact that I am alive is a miracle. Even I can’t believe something like this happened. … I can’t believe it’s me in the video.”

The footage shows Oh running between two trees, just as several North Korean soldiers scramble to take up positions behind him and open fire. The hail of bullets tore through Oh, at least five shots hitting him directly.

It took a moment for South Korean soldiers to crawl to him and drag him to cover. “I did think that I was going to die as I was lying there,” he said. “At this point, when they were coming to rescue me, I was unconscious.”

Doctors who operated on Oh said it was a “miracle” he survived. Among those credited with saving his life was Sgt. 1st Class Gopal Singh of San Antonio, Texas, a member of the medevac crew who flew Oh to a hospital in Suwon, the South Korean capital.

“I am truly grateful to him and I hope there will be an opportunity for me to meet him,” Oh said. “If I do, I want to thank him in person for everything.”

[NBC]

China to use 5G technology to tackle flow of North Korean refugees

Posted on by

A Chinese border patrol unit plans to use 5G technology to help stem the flow of refugees from North Korea and smuggled goods between the two countries, according to mainland Chinese media.

The unit in Tonghua, Jilin province, signed an agreement with China Mobile – the largest wireless network operator –to build the country’s first 5G checkpoint at Unbong, or Yunfeng Reservoir in Chinese, Legal Daily reported.

“The Yunfeng checkpoint faces great difficulties in [border] control because it is in the mountains and covers a large area with many major road junctions, so [they] decided to set up China’s first 5G border checkpoint there,” the report said. Jian is a key border trading area between China and North Korea and a favorite crossing point for North Korean refugees and smugglers of food, goods and cash.

According to the Legal Daily  report, Yunfeng border police would trial the use of new technologies such as virtual reality glasses, simultaneously updating logbooks, drones and 4K night-vision monitors to patrol the border when the 5G network is fully established. The report did not say when the project would be completed.

[South China Morning Post]