It’s said that the thousands of East Germans used to cross the border to the West in a day. So why don’t more people defect from North Korea?
Families of defectors and those with suspicious anti-state thoughts are closely watched and controlled by the authorities. And the North Korean self-monitoring and report system has taken firm root in general society, thanks to over 70 years of brainwashing education. I’ve heard that the person in charge of neighborhood security has detailed information on who in their unit is blacklisted, the number of people per household, each person’s employment status, their personal connections, and even the number of spoons and chopsticks in each household. Considering such circumstances, how could you risk sharing your plans about defection with others, even to close friends?
I finally fled North Korea last October after a few attempts, along with my wife and son. None of my brothers or relatives were even aware of what we’d done.
Until around 10 years ago, people kept their cell phones for calling China and South Korea a secret. The phones must stay switched off, because illegal overseas calls are strictly banned and severely punished depending on the extent of the breach. Calls are made at a pre-arranged date and time, agreed upon by the caller in North Korea and the recipient in either China or South Korea.
The Ministry of State Security’s detection police, called the ‘111 Command Squad’, watches for anti-state crimes such as escape attempts and trading South Korean cell phones. They monitor 24 hours a day and even wait in the mountains with a radio locator to ambush callers. To avoid them, the call must be as brief as possible.
[However, the biggest challenge] to defecting is the so-called ‘cover fee’ (a bribe you pay to the border guards who, in return, secure your smuggling passage). The price varies depending on the crossing point but on average (based on my knowledge as of October 2018, when I defected) it ranges between 30,000 RMB -150,000 RMB (equivalent of $4200-21,000).
So defection, to a large extent, revolves around money.
[Tae-il Shim, is a pseudonym for a North Korean defector, writing in NK News.org]