North Korean defectors
|North Korean defectors|
Since the division of Korea after World War II and the end of the Korean War (1950–1953), some North Koreans have managed to defect for political, ideological, religious and economic reasons. A prominent defection occurred shortly after the signing of the armistice at the end of the Korean War, on September 21, 1953, when a 21-year-old No Kum-Sok, a senior lieutenant in the North Korean air force, flew his MiG-15 to the South. His act, affiliated with Operation Moolah, was considered an intelligence bonanza because his fighter plane was the best in the Communist bloc. No was awarded a sum of $100,000 or ₩13,170,200 and the right to reside in the United States. An offer to return the MiG was ignored, and the aircraft is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio.
Since the North Korean famine of the 1990s, more North Koreans have defected. The usual strategy is to cross the border into Jilin and Liaoning provinces in northeast China before fleeing to a third country, because China is a close ally of North Korea. China, being one of the few and the biggest economic partner of North Korea while the country has been under U.N. sanctions for decades, is also the largest and continuous aid source of the country. To avoid worsening the already tense relations of the Korea Peninsula, China refuses to grant North Korean defectors refugee status and considers them illegal economic migrants. About 76 to 84% of defectors interviewed in China or South Korea came from the Northeastern provinces bordering China. If the defectors are caught in China, they are repatriated back to North Korea to face harsh interrogations and years of punishment, or even death in political prison camps such as Yodok camp or reeducation camps such as Chungsan camp or Chongori camp.
Different terms, official and unofficial, refer to North Korean refugees. On 9 January 2005, the South Korean Ministry of Unification announced the use of saeteomin (새터민, lit. "people of new land") instead of talbukja (“people who fled the North”), a term about which North Korean officials expressed displeasure. A newer term is bukhanitaljumin (hangul: 북한이탈주민 hanja: 北韓離脫住民), which has the more forceful meaning of, "residents who renounced North Korea".
In China there are between 20,000−30,000 North Korean refugees. There was a continued decline in the number of North Korean refugees in China, with around 11,000 in the country at year’s end,[when?] mostly in the northeast, making them the largest population outside of North Korea; these are not typically considered to be members of the ethnic Korean community, and the Chinese census does not count them as such. Some North Korean refugees who are unable to obtain transport to South Korea marry ethnic Koreans in China and settle there; they blend into the community but are subject to deportation if discovered by the authorities. Those who have found 'escape brokers', try to enter the South Korean consulate in Shenyang. In recent years, the Chinese government has tightened the security and increased the number of police outside the consulate.
Today there are new ways of getting into South Korea. One is to follow the route to the Mongolian border; another is the route to southeast Asian countries such as Thailand, who welcome the North Korean defectors.
According to a source from 2005, "60 to 70% of the defectors [in China] are women, 70 to 80% of whom are victims of human trafficking." Most of the clients of North Korean women are Chinese citizens of Korean descent, largely elderly bachelors. Violent abuse starts in apartments near the border with China, from where the women are then moved to cities further away to work as sex slaves. Chinese authorities arrest and repatriate these North Korean victims. North Korean authorities keep repatriates in penal labour colonies (and/or execute them) and execute the Chinese-fathered babies "to protect North Korean pure blood" and force abortions on pregnant repatriates who are not executed.
China refuses to grant refugee status to North Korean defectors and considers them illegal economic migrants. The Chinese authorities arrest and deport hundreds of defectors back into North Korea, sometimes in mass immigration sweeps. Chinese citizens caught aiding defectors face fines and imprisonment. In February 2012, Chinese authorities repatriated North Korean defectors being held in Shenyang and five defectors in Changchun from the same location. The case of the 24 detainees, who have been held since early February garnered international attention due to the North's reported harsh punishment of those who attempted to defect. Beijing repatriates North Korean refugees under a deal made with Pyongyang, its ally. Human rights activists say those repatriated face harsh punishment including torture and imprisonment in labor camps.
North Koreans are escaping the impoverished country every day, across the heavily guarded border to mainland China to avoid persecution and starvation. The escapees might face death, if returned to their homeland. South Korean human rights activists are continuing to stage hunger strikes and appeal to the U.N. Human Rights Council to urge China to stop the deportation of the refugees.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (December 2012)|
There are more than 35 North Koreans in Pakistan, mostly foreign students studying in Pakistani universities on student visas. Pakistan is one of the only countries that the North Korean government allows students to study in. Areas with significant populations of North Koreans in Pakistan are Karachi, Islamabad, and Lahore.
There have been three cases of North Korean defectors who have escaped directly to Japan. In January 1987, a small boat carrying 13 North Koreans washed ashore in Fukui Port in Fukui Prefecture and then continued to South Korea via Taiwan. In June 2007, after a six-day boat ride a family of four North Koreans was found by the Japan Coast Guard off the coast of Aomori Prefecture. They later settled in South Korea. In September 2011, the Japan Coast Guard found a wooden boat carrying nine people, three men, three women and three boys. The group had been sailing for five days towards South Korea but had drifted towards the Noto Peninsula.
Japan resettled about 140 ethnic Koreans who managed to return to Japan after initially migrating to North Korea under the 1959-1984 mass "repatriation" project of ethnic Koreans from Japan. This supposed humanitarian project, supported by Chongryon and conducted by the Japanese and North Korean Red Crosses, involved the resettlement of around 90,000 volunteers (most from South Korea) in the DPRK, which was hailed as "paradise on earth" by Chongryon.
A much shorter route than the standard China-Laos-Thailand route is straight to Mongolia, whose government tries to maintain good relations with both North and South Korea but is sympathetic to North Korean refugees. North Korean refugees who are caught in Mongolia are sent to South Korea, effectively granting them a free air ticket. However, using this route requires navigating the unforgiving terrain of the Gobi Desert.
The Philippines has in the past been used as a transit point for North Korean refugees, often arriving from China and then being sent on to South Korea. There may also be an unknown number of North Korean refugees that have blended into the South Korean community in the Philippines.
A study by Kyung Hee University estimated that roughly 10,000 North Koreans live in the Russian Far East; many are escapees from North Korean work camps there. Both South Korean diplomatic missions and local ethnic Koreans are reluctant to provide them with any assistance; it is believed that North Korea ordered the assassination of South Korean consul Choi Duk-gun in 1996 as well as two private citizens in 1995, in response to their contact with the refugees. As of 1999, there were estimated to be only between 100 and 500 North Korean refugees in the area.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification, is a government organization that is in charge of preparing for a future reunification between North and South Korea. It is responsible for North-South relations including economic trade, diplomacy, and communication, and education of reunification, which involves spreading awareness in schools and among the public sphere. The Ministry of Unification is thus the main organization that manages North Korean defectors in South Korean territory by establishing admission processes and resettlement policies. It also has regional sub-organs called Hana Center within the ministry that helps defectors in their day to day life for a more smooth transition into the South Korean society. The number of defectors since the 1950-1953 Korean War is more than 24,000.
In 1962, the South Korean Government introduced the "Special law on the protection of defectors from the North" which, after revision in 1978, remained effective until 1993. According to the law, every defector was eligible for a generous aid package. After their arrival in the South, defectors would receive an allowance. The size of this allowance depended on the category to which the particular defector belonged (there were three such categories). The category was determined by the defector’s political and intelligence value. Apart from this allowance, defectors who delivered especially valuable intelligence or equipment were given large additional rewards. Prior to 1997 the payments had been fixed in gold bullion, not in South Korean won—in attempts to counter ingrained distrust about the reliability of paper money.
The state provided some defectors with apartments, and all those who wished to study were granted the right to enter a university of his or her choice. Military officers were allowed to continue their service in the South Korean military where they were given the same rank that they had held in the North Korean army. For a period of time after their arrival defectors were also provided with personal bodyguards.
Recently, South Korea has passed controversial new measures intended to slow the flow of asylum seekers as it has become worried that a growing number of North Koreans crossing the Amnok and Duman rivers into China will soon seek refuge in the South.
The regulations tighten defector screening processes and slash the amount of money given to each refugee from ₩28,000,000 ($24,180.08) to ₩10,000,000 ($8,635.743). South Korean officials say the new rules are intended to prevent ethnic Koreans living in China from entering the South, as well as stop North Koreans with criminal records from gaining entry.
North Korean refugees arriving in the South are first interrogated by intelligence officers to ensure that they are not spies. They are then sent to Hanawon, a government resettlement center.
Hanawon opened on 8 July 1999, and is located about an hour south of Seoul in the countryside of Anseong, Gyeonggi Province. In her book Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, journalist Barbara Demick describes Hanawon as a cross between a trade school and a halfway house, and describes its purpose as teaching North Koreans how to live on their own in South Korea.
Originally built to accommodate around 200 people for a three-month resettlement program, in 2002 the facility's capacity was doubled to 400. In 2004, to mark the fifth anniversary of the program, a second facility opened south of Seoul.
At Hanawon, the three month training curriculum is focused on three main goals: easing the socioeconomic and psychological anxiety of North Korean defectors; overcoming the barriers of cultural heterogeneity; and offering practical training for earning a livelihood in the South. Refugees relearn the peninsula's history, i.e. that the North started the Korean War, and take classes on human rights and the mechanics of democracy. They are taught how to use an ATM, pay an electric bill, drive a car, read the Roman alphabet and speak Southern dialect. They are taken on field trips to buy clothes, get haircuts, and eat at a food court.
Many refugees have poor teeth due to malnourishment. Many also suffer from depression and other psychological problems when they arrive at Hanawon. 30% of female defectors in particular show signs of depression, which analysts attribute to, among other things, having experienced sexual abuse in North Korea, in refuges in China or by South Korean detectives at Hanawon.
Hanawon imposes heavy restrictions on the travel of North Korean defectors because of security concerns. In addition, security is tight with barbed wire, security guards, and cameras. The threat of kidnap or physical attacks against individual defectors by North Korean agents is ever-present.
Upon completion of the Hanawon program, defectors find their own homes with a government subsidy. When Hanawon first opened North Koreans were originally offered ₩36 million per person to resettle with ₩540,000 monthly afterward. Now they receive ₩20 million to resettle and ₩320,000 monthly for five years.
There are also non-profit organizations such as PSCORE that seek to make the sociocultural transition easier and more efficient for the refugees. PSCORE runs education programs for refugees, providing weekly English classes and one-on-one tutoring.
Approximate total number of defectors from 1953 to 2012: 24,608
Thailand is usually the final destination of North Koreans escaping through China. While North Koreans are not given refugee status and are officially classified as illegal immigrants, the Thai government deports them to South Korea after they have served their prison sentences for illegal entry. The sentences of imprisonment are generally suspended by the mercy of justice. Many North Koreans will in fact surrender themselves to the Thai police as soon as they cross the border into Thailand.
Nine people were arrested in 2013, including the son of Kyoko Matsumoto, which caused protests in China and South Korea.      
On 5 May 2006, unnamed North Koreans were granted refugee status by the United States, the first time the U.S. accepted refugees from there since President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act in October 2004. The group, which arrived from an unnamed Southeast Asian nation, included four women who said that they had been the victims of forced marriage. Since this first group of refugees, the US was reported to having admitted approximately 50 more North Korean refugees.
Until June 2010, there was a total of 99 North Korean refugees living in the United States. Some of the only legal North Korean Residents in the United States work at the North Korean Consulate in New York City; the others are illegal immigrant refugees.
Until 2004, Vietnam was described as the "preferred Southeast Asian escape route" for North Korean defectors, largely due to its less mountainous terrain. Though Vietnam remains an officially communist country and maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea, growing South Korean investment in Vietnam has prompted Hanoi to quietly permit the transit of North Korean refugees to Seoul. The increased South Korean presence in the country also proved a magnet for defectors; four of the biggest defector safehouses in Vietnam were run by South Korean expatriates, and many defectors indicated that they chose to try to cross the border from China into Vietnam precisely because they had heard about such safehouses. In July 2004, 468 North Korean refugees were airlifted to South Korea in the single largest mass defection; Vietnam initially tried to keep their role in the airlift secret, and in advance of the deal, even anonymous sources in the South Korean government would only tell reporters that the defectors came from "an unidentified Asian country". Following the airlift, Vietnam tightened border controls and deported several safehouse operators.
North Korean asylum seekers and defectors have been rising in numbers in Canada since 2006. Radio Free Asia reports that in 2007 alone, over 100 asylum applications were submitted, and that North Korean refugees have come from China or elsewhere with the help of Canadian missionaries and NGOs. The rapid increase in asylum applications to Canada is due to the limited options, especially when receiving asylum is becoming more difficult. On 2 February 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper met Hye Sook Kim, a North Korean defector and also received advice from Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, "Canada can persuade China, among others, not to repatriate the North Korean refugees back to North Korea but, instead, let them go to South Korea and other countries, including Canada."
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