Currently, Russia’s Federal Migration Service (or FMS) is reviewing a North Korean defector’s application for refugee status for the fourth and final time. The media calls him “Kim,” and he has lived in Russia since 2013.
Kim first crossed the river from North Korea to China when he was 17. It was 1997, there was a famine going on, and his boarding school had just closed down because it couldn’t feed its students. He lived illegally for eight years in China, until Chinese officials caught him trying to travel to Russia and quickly deported him back to North Korea. North Korean defectors don’t have a shot at asylum in China, where they are regarded as no more than economic migrants.
As punishment for crossing the border without authorization, Kim was sent to a prison camp “for re-education.” At these camps, fifty prisoners sleep in one room on a floor without bedding. Kim told Civic Assistance he worked 20 hours a day. (It could have been much worse at a camp for political prisoners.)
One day, when sent to work outside the camp, he and 30 others took a chance and ran away. Three men, Kim included, successfully hid in the home of an acquaintance. The rest were caught and shot. Again, Kim crossed over the river into China. Again, he lived day-to-day in hiding, this time only for five years. He managed to cross the frozen Amur River into the Russian border city of Blagoveshchensk. He ran into some Russian border guards and told them he wanted to request refugee status. They responded by arresting him.