Most North Koreans seeking sanctuary in China cross the Tumen River into Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. With its large population of Korean-Chinese, North Koreans have a chance of finding people with whom they can communicate and who are willing to provide them shelter and economic support.
Despite the national Chinese policy of arrest and deportation, local implementation in Yanbian is tempered by intra-ethnic solidarity that Korean-Chinese officials feel for their deprived brothers and sisters from North Korea. Furthermore, many people in Yanbian either have direct experience, or have learned of their parents’ experiences, of being sheltered in North Korea during the political chaos and economic dislocation during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. These experiences generate sympathy for the plight of North Koreans.
If individuals cross the border to survive and present no threat to public safety, the local authorities and police tend to look the other way, often for months. Indeed, several North Koreans told Refugees International that they received assistance from border guards when they first crossed into China.
However, North Koreans live under constant fear of arrest and deportation while in China. They have no realistic options to live freely and meet their basic needs, and the few courageous individuals and organizations seeking to provide protection and assistance, whether Korean-Chinese, South Korean, or the rare few from outside the region, are themselves under constant pressure from the Chinese authorities to curtail their activities or risk expulsion.
[International Journal of Korean Unification Studies]