Several North Korean defectors have recently been arrested in Dandong, China, by Chinese police and almost immediately repatriated back to North Korea, according to sources close to the matter.
“Two laborers who were working at a metalworks company in Sinuiju were arrested by Chinese police. They were repatriated back to North Korea over the Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge the day after they were questioned by the Chinese,” a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on November 20.
A source with knowledge of the incident in China said, “In the past, many defectors could avoid being caught if they hid from the police for a couple of days, but these days the Chinese police have strengthened their patrols and there are now fewer defections.”
Another similar incident occurred said a separate source in China. “A defector hid in a reed field near the mouth of the Yalu River for three days before trying to swim across to Langtou Port to reach Chinese territory, but was arrested by Chinese police in the process,” he said, adding that the man was sent back across the Sino-Korean Friendship bridge soon after being questioned by Chinese authorities.
The Chinese have strengthened patrols along the Sino-DPRK border and installed more surveillance equipment, which has made it more difficult for North Koreans to defect, the source said. Chinese authorities began installing high-quality surveillance cameras on the Sino-DPRK border several years ago and have used thermal imaging cameras to crack down on defections and smuggling activities at night. The advanced surveillance equipment has been used to track the movements of North Koreans near the border and arrest those who try to defect into Chinese territory.
“Boats are used in the river for smuggling and these activities are not easy for Chinese authorities to track,” said the source. “By comparison, the authorities can relatively easily track movements of people coming over the border [..] The use of hundreds of cameras that can read very small print from 2 km away means that North Koreans have little chance of successfully defecting across the border.”
There are growing concerns about the safety of North Koreans trying to defect to China. “The Kim Jong Un regime may severely punish those attempting to cross over into China, so China’s moves to repatriate defectors back to North Korea can be seen as a crime against humanity,” one North Korean analyst told Daily NK on condition of anonymity. “The international community must call for the end of these repatriations.”