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North Koreans face hunger, forced labor, shortages of medicine and other supplies, and no freedom of expression or assembly, according to North Koreans who managed to escape the so-called Hermit Kingdom and tell their stories to the world.
Yet when more than 500 North Korean citizens – mostly civilians and religious figures – attempted to flee from China to South Korea to escape the hellscape of their homeland, Chinese officials seized them and sent them back into the clutches of North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un, reported Radio Free Asia.
South Korean officials condemned the repatriation, the BBC wrote, saying it flew in the face of the international principle of “non-refoulement,” which makes it illegal to send refugees and asylum seekers back to places where they could face persecution. The South Koreans said China should either grant these unfortunate folks asylum – or let them continue to South Korea.
Under North Korean law, attempting to escape the country is tantamount to “treachery against the nation,” a crime punishable by death or rendition to a forced labor camp, noted Human Rights Watch.
And families of those who have managed to escape can be sentenced to labor camps or banished to the “northern wilderness” “without supplies,” according to a review of the documentary film, “Beyond Utopia,” which follows a family’s escape.
In the meantime, the United Nations said that around 2,000 North Koreans are currently being held in China after they fled North Korea without permission. UN officials exhorted Kim to allow their inspectors into North Korea so they could assess what might happen if those 2,000 North Koreans were shipped back home.
China, however, claimed that it was harboring no “defectors.” Instead, it classifies North Koreans who flee their country as illegal economic migrants.
These migrants suffer untold horrors.
Jihyun Park, now an activist based in the United Kingdom, told Voice of America that she escaped North Korea in 1998 as the country collapsed into famine. In China, smugglers sold her into a forced marriage. Six years later, Chinese police caught her and sent her back to North Korea. She was sentenced to a detention camp for political prisoners. In 2004, she escaped again. The UK eventually granted her asylum.
North Korea not only wants to prevent its people from escaping. Its government has also sought new people who might come but never leave.
A Japanese court recently found North Korean officials in the capital of Pyongyang guilty of “illegal solicitation and detainment” after luring Japanese and other citizens to the country between 1959 and 1984 through its “paradise on Earth” program, which promised free healthcare, good jobs, and other perks if they would move there. But these credulous victims found only harsh conditions in “mines, forests or farms,” reported the Associated Press.
If the country has to lie to lure people to its shores, it’s no wonder that some locals want to leave.