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10 Facts About Refugees in Mongolia

Refugees in Mongolia

Mongolia is a landlocked country in Asia with a population of just over 3,000,000. This East Asian nation is home to a small, yet geopolitically significant refugee population. Here are 10 facts about those displaced refugees in Mongolia:

  1. The World Bank’s most current data shows that there were nine refugees in Mongolia in 2015. This obviously ranks Mongolia behind neighboring countries China and Russia, which both have around 300,000 documented refugees. However, this miniscule number does not reflect the reality of refugees in Mongolia.
  2. Refugees in Mongolia are mainly from North Korea. The North Korean defectors live there, often briefly, under a tenuous balance between Mongolia-U.S. diplomatic relations and Mongolia-North Korea diplomatic relations.
  3. Hundreds of North Korean refugees pass through Mongolia each month before being repatriated in South Korea. Refugees in Mongolia from North Korea choose one of two common paths to defect to South Korea. One option is to travel north from North Korea through China into Mongolia before flying to South Korea.  The other route they take is to go south through China and into Laos and Thailand before boarding a plane to South Korea. North Korea expert and head of the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Relief Fund Stephen Noerper once estimated that each month, 500 North Koreans pass through Mongolia.
  4. North Korean refugees must pass through China in secret before arriving in Mongolia. China’s alliance with North Korea means that North Korean defectors will be sent back to North Korea if caught in China. Defectors who are caught often face brutal treatment and forced labor in North Korean concentration camps.
  5. Their journey to Mongolia is treacherous. Besides having to sneak through China and past Chinese border patrol, refugees in Mongolia must pass through the Gobi Desert, a cold desert that stretches hundreds of miles.
  6. Mongolia has long said it will humanely treat North Korean refugees. Mongolian Prime Minister Nambaryn Enkhbayar has publicly sympathized with North Korean defectors.
  7. However, Mongolia’s position on North Korean defectors remains unclear. Mongolia has stepped up its border patrol in recent years and has several agreements with North Korea.  This includes accepting thousands of migrant workers from the one-party state.
  8. On the other hand, Mongolian border patrol agents have let North Koreans into the country, and Mongolia remains an ally of the U.S.
  9. Refugees in Mongolia from North Korea often make their way to the South Korean embassy. There, they are taken care of and able to book a flight from the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar to the South Korean capital of Seoul.
  10. The number of refugees in Mongolia from North Korea is decreasing. According to the Korea Herald, stricter North Korean border patrol has caused the number of North Korean defectors to drop 21 percent already in 2017.

Though their numbers may seem small, Mongolia still plays a crucial role in aiding North Korean refugees and defectors. Mongolia’s situation reminds us that even helping a handful of individuals has an impact on both personal lives and international relations.

David Mclellan

Photo: Flickr