Kim Jeong-cheol already lost a brother who tried to escape from North Korea, and now fears his sister will meet a similar fate after she was caught by Chinese authorities.
“My elder brother was caught in 2005, and he went to a political prison and was executed in North Korea,” Kim told Reuters. “That’s why my sister will surely die if she goes back there. What sin is it for a man to leave because he’s hungry and about to die?”
Reuters was unable to verify the fate of Kim’s brother or sister. Calls to the North Korean embassy in Beijing were not answered.
When another woman – who asked to be unnamed for her family’s safety – escaped from North Korea eight years ago, she promised her sister and mother she would work to bring them out later. Her 27-year-old sister was in a group of four defectors who made it all the way to Nanning, near the border with Vietnam, before being caught.
In January, their mother died of cancer. On her death bed, the mother wrote a message on her palm pleading for her remaining daughter to escape North Korea.
“It will haunt me for the rest of my life that I didn’t keep my promise,” said the woman, who now lives in South Korea.
Activist groups and lawyers seeking to help the families say there is no sign China has deported the recently arrested North Koreans yet, and their status is unknown.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry, which does not typically acknowledge arrests of individual North Korean escapees, said it had no information about the raids or status of detainees. “We do not know about the situation to which you are referring,” the ministry said in a statement when asked by Reuters. North Koreans who enter China illegally because of economic reasons are not refugees, it added.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea human rights, Tomas Ojea Quintana, said Monday he has discussed the issue of detained North Korean defectors in China with South Korean officials.