Tag Archive: refugee

After Shin Dong-hyuk’s escape from the North Korean gulag

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Shin Dong-hyuk lived his whole life in a North Korean prison camp. After his escape from Camp 14, Shin spent about a month making his way through North Korea, making friends with the homeless underworld and hopping on and off trains between cities. Eventually, he reached the Tumen River, bribed a border guard and crossed the river into China.

He spent more than a year laying low in China. Well-fed but working for measly pay in people’s homes, he was wary of attracting attention from the government, which typically repatriates North Korean defectors, claiming they are “economic migrants.” If the Chinese government were to recognize defectors like Shin as humanitarian refugees, it would be prohibited, under international law, from returning them to North Korea.

In February 2006, after moving around much of China, Shin ran into a Korean-born journalist in a restaurant in Shanghai. The journalist listened to — and believed — Shin’s story, then smuggled him past Chinese police and into the South Korean consulate, which provided Shin diplomatic immunity.

After six months living at the consulate, Shin was flown to Seoul; soon thereafter, he moved to a government-run resettlement center. He struggled to adapt to life in the free world. His self-described growth has been like the “slow growth of a fingernail.”

Shin said he knows of no silver bullet for the North Korean crisis. But what he does know, and what disappoints him, is the world’s ignorance of and seeming indifference to the 21st century’s gulag — the same kind of indifference that allowed Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot to carry out similar political persecutions and mass imprisonments.

[Excerpts from Jewish Journal article authored by Jared Sichel] 

Jeong Kwang Il, North Korean defector

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The U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea was established in March by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in North Korea.”

More than 40 witnesses — some of them newly arrived from North Korea — recently testified before representatives from the U.N. inquiry commission in Seoul, and they detailed horrific abuse at the hands of their captors.

One of those who testified was Jeong Kwang Il, a North Korean defector once worked for a North Korean trading company that he said dealt with China and South Korea.That ended abruptly in 1999, when he was arrested by government security agents, he said. “These people were beating me with clubs, and they said I should confess that I am a spy. But I told them. ‘I’m not a spy.’ But they kept beating me — for two weeks.”

After undergoing “pigeon torture,” in which he was hung upside down with his hands cuffed behind his back, he confessed to what he told the commission he had never done. “I could not endure this any more so I confessed that I was given a spy’s job from South Korea,” he said. “I had given up.”

Jeong said he was then taken to a political camp, where he spent three years before he was released to discover that his home was no longer where it had been, and he could not find his family.

“I felt betrayed,” he said. “I decided that I was done in North Korea.”

After a year-long escape route that took him through China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, Jeong arrived in South Korea in 2004, where he has started a new life, but not forgotten the old one.

“Even if they give me a lot of money, I will not go back to that country,” he vowed.


Non-specific crimes result in North Korean prison camp

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An Myeong Chul worked for eight years as one of the feared, ruthless guards in one of North Korea’s prison camps. Mr. An eventually became curious about the prisoners he once viewed as sub-human, discovering that, far from being enemies, most were hapless victims of an often-indiscriminate dragnet.

About 90% were arrested in the middle of the night without knowing what they had done wrong, he said. “They would be told they were there to pay for the crimes of some distant relative that they had never met,” said Mr. An. “I saw even two-year-olds and four-year-olds sent to the prison camp, and what crime did these children commit?”

Then his own father came under suspicion after suggesting that blame for the famine wracking the country lay with top Communist leaders, not local officials as suggested by supreme leader Kim Jong-il. Knowing the kind of fate that awaited him for voicing dissent, the father killed himself by drinking poison, said Mr. An. His mother, sister and brother were arrested and dispatched to the gulag themselves, but he managed to escape Camp 22 and make it across the nearby Chinese border.

Helped on the other side by ethnic-Korean Chinese, he eventually wound up in South Korea.

He still regrets, though, that the search launched by both North Korean and Chinese agents after he ran led to 140 Korean refugees in China being sent back to the regime they had fled.

He has other regrets, too, about his years in the gulag. “I’m very sorry and apologetic for the fact I was part of that system.”

[National Post]

China arrests traffickers of North Korean women

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Chosun Ilbo reports Chinese police have busted a human trafficking ring that lured North Korean women into defecting and indentured labor or prostitution.

Chinese media reports said police in Yanji, Jilin Province, which is home to a large population of ethnic Koreans, arrested four foreigners and one Chinese. Police found 12 North Korean women who had been sold to Heilongjiang Province and other parts of China and sent them back to the North. North Korean sources said that would mean sending them to torture or death and accused Beijing of violating humanitarian principles.

One woman identified only by her surname Choe (25) was arrested along with a Chinese national also identified only by his family name Shi, reports said.

Choe said she crossed the border into China in 2007 at the age of 19 after finishing high school in order to make money for her family. But instead of finding a job in China, she was sold to a mentally disabled man in Heilongjiang Province. She realized she was a victim of human trafficking, but her inability to communicate in Chinese made it impossible for her to escape. A few months later, she was sold to another Chinese man and had his child.

Choe met Shi early last year after he was released from prison after serving time for human trafficking, and helped him recruit other North Koreans for their human trafficking ring, Chinese police said. They lured 20 North Korean women between in their 20s to 40s to China. The gang were paid 10,000-15,000 yuan per woman, and accomplices in North Korea 3,000-5,000 yuan.

A source in China said, “I think Chinese police announced the arrest because they want to back claims that North Korean defectors are not refugees but victims of crime, or illegal aliens.”

Thousands of North Korean cameras on Chinese border

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With more and more defectors heading south, Kim Jong-un’s North Korean regime spent $1.66 million on over 16,000 border-security cameras in the first 11 months of 2012, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports, as he continues to build a spy network on his own citizens. And that’s not good news for anyone under the watching eyes of the Supreme Leader who’s trying to seek refuge amidst, you know, democracy. The data, according to Chosun Ilbo, is based on Chinese customs data:

“[North Korea] imported a total of 16,420 CCTV cameras worth about US$1.66 million from China from January to November last year.

“In 2009, the first year China published statistics on bilateral trade, the North imported a whopping 40,465 surveillance cameras from China. In 2010 the figure was 22,987 and in 2011 22,118. Altogether the North has imported over 100,000 cameras worth about $10 million.”

That’s a lot of surveillance equipment for such a small country: North Korea’s addition of 100,000 closed-circuit TV cameras over three years is a gain of about one for every 244 citizens, compared to the approximately 1.85 million in all of Britain — or one for every 33 of its population. London, which has upwards of a third of those British spycams, is of course more densely packed than Pyonyang.

But Kim Jong-un isn’t focusing on the cities — he’s looking for runaways. As analysts tell Chosun Ilbo from South Korea, “cameras are being positioned at key points along the long border the two nations share in order to detect and capture would-be defectors from the North.” As The Telegraph‘s Julian Ryall explains, it’s part of a larger push to keep North Korean citizens from crossing the border:

“Kim Jong-un has carried out a crackdown on people hoping to escape their repressive homeland, as well as anyone using a mobile phone to communicate across the border and smugglers bringing in banned newspapers, books and recordings of television programmes that show the lives of people in prosperous South Korea.”

And the North Korean regime’s efforts seem to be working, with the number of defectors coming out of the country dropping sharply over the past three years, just as the camera trade has ramped up. “Just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 compared to more than 2,700 the previous year, according to the South’s Unification Ministry,” reported the BBC, which notes that the figure is a seven-year low. “Most North Korean refugees escape across the border with China and then make their way to South Korea via third countries.”

[Repost from The Atlantic]



North Korean refugee documentary nominated

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A documentary about the plight of North Korean refugees has been nominated for the documentary category of the 40th International Emmy Awards.

Titled “Across Land, Across Sea” in English, the documentary was nominated along with works from the U.K., Germany and Argentina. The documentary has three 52-minute episodes:

  • “Across Land, Across Sea,” which tracks a successful escape from North Korea and China to South Korea in December 2009 by Song Sung-kook and his family helped by Pastor Kim Sung-eun;
  • “Seeking Haven,” which depicts the desperate attempts of a North Korean refugee to bring her family in the North to the South and her difficult adjustment to South Korean society; and
  • “Crossing Three Borders,” a story of North Korean refugees who stormed into the Danish Embassy in Vietnam in pursuit of freedom.

The International Emmy Awards are presented to the best TV programs produced and originally aired outside the U.S. and are considered to be among the world’s top three broadcast awards along with Canada’s Banff World Media Festival and Monaco’s Monte Carlo Television Festival. The award ceremony takes place in New York on October 19.

Escape from a North Korean concentration camp

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–A brief account byYong Kim, who escaped from a political prison camp in North Korea and after living as a refugee in China, 1 year later arrived safely in South Korea, via Mongolia

On September 28, I made a miraculous escape from [my concentration] camp of death on a coal train. I passed through various North Korean provinces, finally crossing the Tumen River in December [escaping into] China. I wandered in Yanji not knowing where to go in the strange Chinese land.

The sad fate of North Koreans in China as a poor homeless race came home to me. The women are sold for rape and forced into prostitution by Chinese and Korean-Chinese. Some women try to go back to North Korea with the money they earned to feed their families, only to be caught and imprisoned in police detention centers.

Pregnant women often suffer the most, as officers would kill the fetuses while in the womb by kicking the women’s belly. In the market in Yanji, you see North Korean children whose fingers have been cut off for stealing food.

There is a pecuniary reward for every North Korean defector captured, and the Korean-Chinese go all out searching for North Koreans in hiding, to hand them over to the Chinese police. The arrested North Koreans are strung together with a wire that is pierced through their noses. And in groups of fifty, these people are deported.

Chronicling the escape from North Korea

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Christianity Today features a review of Melanie Kirkpatrick’s new book, excerpts following:

In Escape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad (Encounter), Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick labors … to set the record straight on survivors who have fled North Korea. She tells a story of bravery, luck, disappointment, and death; of Christian activists and money-hungry brokers united behind a simple Mosaic invocation: Let my people go.

Until the mid-1990s, there wasn’t much to be gained by rushing the 880-mile border with China. With borders sealed and news of the outside world scarce, few ordinary North Koreans escaped. But when a crippling famine struck and a sudden Chinese prosperity beckoned, the trickle of refugees swelled to nearly half a million, its path smoothed by a relaxation of restrictive internal policies. Freedom, religious or otherwise, never entered their political vocabulary. Most fled simply out of hunger.

Yet North Korea receives less international attention than other failed states. It does not have the status of an “Asian Darfur.” Nor is the degradation of its people widely understood, even among South Koreans or Korean Americans.

Culpability for this apathy and ignorance, argues Kirkpatrick, belongs at least partly to South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, whose “Sunshine” policy (1998-2008) muted official criticisms of the Pyongyang regime in an effort to build good will. Activists and aid workers now call this period the “Lost Decade.”

Chinese intransigence makes the situation still worse. In contravention of international law, it remains official Chinese policy to hand North Korean refugees back to North Korea, where they face torture, incarceration, and possibly death.

Here is a rare book that puts human faces on the numbers, a lamentation over policies and duplicities that have haunted a people terribly divided.


How difficult is it to escape North Korea?

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Any North Korean who wants to escape the country needs large measures of courage, determination, and luck. The only practical escape route is through China — across the Yalu or Tumen River.

Money obviously helps — to hire a guide to shepherd you across the river, or to bribe guards to look the other way. The bribery option is harder nowadays, though. Kim Jong Un, the young new dictator who took over after his father’s death last December, has issued a crackdown order, and border guards are afraid to disobey. North Koreans who cross the river to China can also be shot in the back by North Korean border guards.

It’s important to remember that the escape story doesn’t end when a North Korea reaches Chinese soil.

In China, a North Korean trades in one circle of hell for another. If he wants to be safe, if he wants to achieve freedom, the next step is to get out of China. He can’t do that on his own. He needs help to get out of China and then reach sanctuary in South Korea. That’s where the new underground railroad comes in.

–Hudson Institute senior fellow Melanie Kirkpatrick

Rampant post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

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Rampant post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean Refugees

Radio Free Asia reports that a study of post-traumatic stress disorder among North Korean defectors found that they reported certain traumatic events in North Korea with a high frequency.

Most commonly reported were: “witnessing public executions,” followed by “hearing news of the death of a family member or relative due to starvation,” “witnessing a beating,” “witnessing a punishment for political misconduct,” and “death of a family member or relative due to illness.”

The study, published in the international medical journal The Lancet, found symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 29.5 percent of North Koreans in South Korea, compared with a rate of 56 percent found among North Koreans in China in a separate study.