Most North Koreans who enter China do so by crossing the Tumen River into Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, where 854,000 ethnic Koreans with Chinese citizenship reside.
The capital of Yanbian, Yanji, has a population of 350,000 of whom 210,000 are ethnic Koreans.
These population figures suggest that the upper estimates of “300,000 North Koreans living in China” are therefore implausible, since a large portion of 300,000 North Koreans living illegally [in this area of China] would find it difficult to live underground in a city of 350,000 …and would be even more conspicuous in rural areas where strangers are easily identified.
In testimony before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations of the US Congress in November 2003, Refugees International (RI) endorsed an estimate of 60-100,000 North Koreans living in Yanbian based on the findings of a one-week visit to the prefecture in June 2003.
The lack of data is symptomatic of the overall vulnerability of the North Korean population in China. The Chinese authorities themselves either have no firm grasp of the scale of the inward-migration, or refuse to make public data that may be available. Church networks and humanitarian organizations in Yanbian make some effort to monitor the scale of border crossings, but do not publish these data for fear of jeopardizing their operations. Read more
[International Journal of Korean Unification Studies]