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The North Korean refugee situation is not one to be taken lightly. While the American media predominantly focuses on the recent refugee crises in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, the totalitarian regime of North Korea impedes on the human rights of North Korean refugees everyday and such injustices cannot be ignored.

10 Facts about North Korean Refugees

  1. The people who live in North Korea are governed by Kim Jong-un under a completely totalitarian regime. Totalitarianism as a form of government theoretically prohibits individual freedom and expression; all aspects of an individual’s life are subject to the government’s authority. As such, media access and information about life outside of North Korea is extremely restricted.
  2. Most North Korean refugees defect to either China or South Korea. Refugees must usually travel through China to reach South Korea, as the border between North and South Korea is extremely regulated.
  3. South Korea’s media usually does not publicize individual defections, but large groups of North Koreans who defect all at once, such as the group of thirteen restaurant workers who left North Korea in April 2016, are more likely to be reported.
  4. The government of South Korea offers citizenship to all North Korean refugees who legitimately try to claim refugee status. The people seeking refuge are extensively interviewed to filter out any North Korean spies. As of May 2016, around 29,000 North Korean refugees live in South Korea.
  5. South Korea also offers reorientation classes for refugees from NK. These courses teach refugees basic life and job skills that don’t apply in North Korea, such as how to withdraw money from an ATM or shop in a Western-style supermarket.
  6. If any refugees from NK manage to escape to China, most face the fear of Chinese government discovery and the forcible repatriating that follows. Despite a signatory on the United Nations convention on refugees stating that China is not obligated to repatriate people seeking refuge, China still cooperates with the North Korean government and will even pay Chinese citizens to turn in undocumented refugees.
  7. Once they arrive back in North Korea, the refugees generally face torture, harsh physical labor and internment in political prisoner camps. It is therefore important to make sure people who want to leave North Korea can leave without fear of repatriation and punishment for leaving their country of birth.
  8. Organizations like Liberty for North Korea use donations to provide rescue and rehabilitation for North Korean refugees without any direct cost to the refugees themselves. It costs about $3,000 to fully rehabilitate one refugee. So far they have rehabilitated 505 refugees.
  9. As of May 2016, over 200,000 North Korean refugees live secretly in China. Most of them live in fear of repatriation and simply want to move on to South Korea or another country that will offer legal protection to refugees. However, tightly restricted travel between China and other countries’ borders often prevents such an opportunity.
  10. Many refugees from NK suffer from a host of mental health problems, including but not limited to depression and PTSD, even after they leave North Korea.

The cooperation of the Chinese with North Korea’s government makes the Chinese government complicit in the refugee injustices. North Korean refugees need help, and they’re looking to the rest of the world for aid.

Bayley McComb

Photo: Liberty in North Korea