A vast transportation lockdown meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus in central China is complicating the already grueling journey of North Korean refugees, according to two sources who help arrange North Korean defector trips.
After fleeing their homes, most North Korean refugees make their way down through China and then onto Southeast Asian countries, including Laos and Thailand, before ending up in South Korea. The journey, which can take months or longer and is thousands of kilometers long, often involves trekking by foot over mountains and using tiny boats to cross rivers.
The China portion of the trip is especially risky, since North Korean refugees are forced to use fake ID cards, according to the Seoul-based broker, who himself defected to South Korea in 2004.
“With China now trying to control everyone’s movements, it’s just too dangerous,” says the broker, who did not want to publish his name because of the sensitivity of his work.
Chinese authorities have implemented what one World Health Organization official called an “unprecedented” lockdown to contain the viral outbreak. China has closed public transportation links, restricted access to major highways, and imposed strict ID and temperature checks – effectively placing tens of millions under quarantine in an expanding circle around Hubei province, where the outbreak began.