North Korean defectors

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North Korean defectors
Hangul 탈북자
Hanja
Revised Romanization Talbukja
McCune–Reischauer T'albukcha

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 and the canceled check for $100,000 are now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Dayton, Ohio.[1][2]

Since the North Korean famine of the 1990s, more North Koreans have defected.[3] The usual strategy is to cross the border into Jilin and Liaoning provinces in northeast China before fleeing to a third country, due to China being 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,[4] is also the largest and continuous aid source of the country. To avoid worsening the already tense relations of the Korea Peninsula, China refuses[citation needed] 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.[5] 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.[6][7]

Terms[edit]

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 (, lit. "people of new land") instead of talbukja ("people who fled the North"), a term about which North Korean officials expressed displeasure.[8] 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".[9]

Demographics[edit]

Since 1953, 100,000–300,000 North Koreans have defected, most of whom have fled to Russia or China.[10] Some 25,000 have defected to South Korea.[11]

Based on a study of South Korean defectors, women make up the majority of defections. In 2002 they comprised 55.5% of defections to South Korea (1,138 people) and by 2011 the number had grown to 70.5% (2,706 people).[12]

By destination[edit]

China[edit]

As of 2012 there were an estimated 200,000 North Koreans hiding in China.[13] making them the largest population outside of North Korea. These refugees 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.[14]

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."[15] Most of the clients of North Korean women are Chinese citizens of Korean descent, largely elderly bachelors.[16] 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.[15]

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.[17]

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.[18][19][20]

Human rights organizations have compiled a list of hundreds of North Korean defectors repatriated by China.[21][22] For some of them the fate after repatriation to North Korea is described, ranging from torture, detention or prison camp to execution. The list also includes humanitarian workers, who were assassinated or abducted by North Korean agents for helping refugees.

Pakistan[edit]

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.

Japan[edit]

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.[23][24] 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.[25] They later settled in South Korea.[26][27][28] 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.[29]

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, had involved the resettlement of around 90,000 volunteers (mostly from South Korea) in the DPRK, which Chongryon hailed as a "paradise on earth".[30] Some of the Koreans include Kim Hyun Hui who is student of Yaeko Taguchi who were repatriated revealed evidence about the whereabouts of Japanese citizens who had been kidnapped by North Korea.[31]

Mongolia[edit]

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.[32] However, using this route requires navigating the unforgiving terrain of the Gobi Desert.

Philippines[edit]

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.[33] There may also be an unknown number of North Korean refugees that have blended into the South Korean community in the Philippines.[34]

Russia[edit]

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.[35] 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.[36]

South Korea[edit]

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.[37] The number of defectors since the 1950-1953 Korean War is more than 24,000.[38][39]

Reward[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Resettlement[edit]

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.[40]

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.[40]

Many refugees have poor teeth due to malnourishment. Many also suffer from depression and other psychological problems when they arrive at Hanawon.[41] 30% of female defectors in particular show signs of depression, which analysts possibly attribute to, among other things, having experienced sexual abuse in North Korea, in refuges in China or by South Korean detectives at Hanawon.[42]

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 and non-governmental organizations that seek to make the sociocultural transition easier and more efficient for the refugees. One such organization, Saejowi, provides defectors with medical assistance as well as an education in diverse topics ranging from leadership and counseling techniques to sexual violence prevention and avoidance.[43] Another organization, PSCORE, runs education programs for refugees, providing weekly English classes and one-on-one tutoring.[44]

Statistics[edit]

Approximate total number of defectors to South Korea from 1953 to 2012: 24,608

North Korean defectors en.svg
Partial Statistics[45]
Year Defectors
until 1989 607
1990 9
1991 9
1992 8
1993 8
1994 52
1995 41
1996 56
1997 85
1998 71
1999 148
2000 312
2001 583
2002 1,138
2003 1,281
2004 1,894
2005 1,383
2006 2,018
2007 2,544
2008 2,809
2009 2,927
2010 2,379
2011 2,737
2012 1,509

About 68.7 percent (when averaged) of North Koreans to have ever defected to South Korea are women, according to a four-month survey conducted by the North Korean Refugees Foundation. The percentage of female defectors has risen from 55.5% in 2002 to a high of 78.3% in 2008.[12]

As of 2011, men made up 29.5% of defectors with 70.5% being women. When looking at all defectors to South Korea, 58% were aged 20–39, 3.8% were children under 9 and 4.7% were older than 60.[12]

The employment status of defectors prior to leaving North Korea was: 1.7% held administrative jobs, 2.7% were a soldier at the time (all able-bodied persons are required to serve 7–10 years in the military),[46] 38.2% were "workers", 50.8% were unemployed or being supported by someone else, 3.8% were "service", 0.8% worked in arts or sports, and 2.0% worked as "professionals".[12] When asked why they left, 33% said they left for economic reasons and 20% said they left to find freedom.

Thailand[edit]

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.[47] The sentences of imprisonment are generally suspended by the mercy of justice.[48] Many North Koreans will in fact surrender themselves to the Thai police as soon as they cross the border into Thailand.[49]

Laos[edit]

Nine defectors were arrested in 2013 and were sent back to North Korea after they were tricked, causing international outrage. One of the defectors is the son of a Japanese abductee.[50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58]

United States[edit]

On 5 May 2006, unnamed North Koreans were granted refugee status by the United States of America, 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 U.S. was reported to having admitted approximately 50 more North Korean refugees.[citation needed] Between 2004 and 2011, the U.S. has admitted only 122 North Korea refugees and only 25 have received political asylum.[59]

As of June 2010, there are a total of 99 North Korean refugees living in the United States.[60]

Vietnam[edit]

Until 2004, Vietnam was described as the "preferred Southeast Asian escape route" for North Korean defectors, largely due to its less mountainous terrain.[citation needed] [clarification needed] 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.[61] 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".[62] Following the airlift, Vietnam tightened border controls and deported several safehouse operators.[61]

On June 25, 2012, a South Korean activist surnamed Yoo was arrested for helping the North Korean defectors to escape.[63][64][65][66][67][68]

Canada[edit]

North Korean asylum seekers and defectors have been rising in numbers in Canada since 2006.[69] 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."[70]

Re-defectors[edit]

In some very rare cases North Korean defectors returned to North Korea. In one case a family of three even came back to South Korea again nine months after their redefection to the North.[71][72][73][74] [75]

See also[edit]

Fiction and non-fiction works[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Web sites[edit]

Articles[edit]

Media[edit]