GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 458 June 06, 2012


[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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Defectors Facing Forced Repatriation Attempt Suicide
China’s Intensified Investigation on Brokers Trafficking North Koreans
Defectors’ Families Frustrated At Losing Contact
“Form a Group of Two or Three When Getting Around in China”
Repercussions of Monitoring Defector Groups on Their Family Members in North Korea
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Defectors Facing Forced Repatriation Attempt Suicide
     There have been some cases of defectors attempting suicide when faced forced repatriation after being arrested by Chinese border patrol. A North Korean official reported that there had been several attempts of suicide at the Tumen detention facility since the end of last year. “I never heard of any suicide attempts at the Chinese detention facility during the Arduous March. But, I guess, people now would rather die there because they shall die anyway once they are sent back to North Korea”, he said. One of the reasons behind these suicide attempts is that the severity of punishment for defectors got increased since last year. Moreover, defectors' despair has been deepened by the food shortage in North Korea that is so severe that many people stay alive only by eating tree-bark and wild-plant roots.

“Some people may go to China for political reasons, but most river-crossers are simply looking for food. In the past, river-crossers used to be punished by being sent to a discipline center. However, these days they are sent to re-education centers and stuck in there for years. That is why those caught while crossing the river having no money for bribes attempt suicide. A young man who was recently repatriated also had tried to kill himself. He said he could not get any food, and now that he got caught by the Chinese border patrol, he did not wish live any longer. He cried and told me that his family of five would starve to death while he is in the re-education center. I couldn’t find any words to comfort him.”

The Chinese government recently re-issued the same order as the one in the last year not to arrest defectors but threaten them on the spot to go back to North Korea. “China probably is concerned about the international opinion. As far as I know, they issued the same instruction last year. It seems that they are re-emphasizing the order this year”, he added. Most of the North Koreans currently held in Chinese detention facilities are those who were caught in cities in the three northeastern provinces in China or were long-term residents in that area rather than those who were caught right at the border.


China’s Intensified Investigation on Brokers Trafficking North Koreans
     A North Korean official reported that Chinese government has reinforced surveillance on brokers helping North Korean defectors just as North Korea does as much as it can to stop defectors and river-crossers. “It seems that the Chinese government lately watches those who are connected with North Korean defectors among Chinese public security units, the border armed police and the border patrol. Anyone slightly related with North Korean defectors get arrested en mass and get punished regardless of their rank, once found to have facilitated them. Those who made illegal phone calls to North Korea are the investigators’ main targets. Foreigners traveling in China who contact North Koreans may also be investigated. I was told that even official contacts are included for investigation”, he said.

The Chinese government imposes penalties of 5,000-20,000 Yuan on those who help defectors or let them stay in their houses. Those involved in trafficking North Koreans are sentenced to at least three years after going through 15-day preliminaries. A recent case was someone sentenced as much as to 17 years. Another North Korean official said, “The Yanbian Autonomous Prefecture, which is home to a large number of ethnic Koreans, is on a war footing against North Korean defectors. Because of the negative international public opinions on forced repatriation, our republic and China are also concerned. I think China is hunting aggressively for their brokers to do their part in deterring North Korean defectors.” He explained that China's efforts to find such connections seem to be driven by its concerns on diplomatic repercussions.


Defectors’ Families Frustrated At Losing Contact
     Nationwide tension about the food shortage is continuing.  North Korean defectors’ family members are worried because it has been difficult to contact with them via cell phones.  Jeong Hae-suk (alias) in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, has been unable to talk with her daughter who went to China for over six months.  The surveillance on phone calls has intensified, making it even more difficult for families to reach out to their family members who left North Korea.  One North Korean official said, “It is considered an act of treason if caught using a cell phone illegally.  If they do not negotiate with the police on the spot, they will be sent to a re-education center. The punishment will be even more severe if they have had previous convictions.  People who can afford to bribe will do so at any cost. Those who cannot afford a bribe do not dare to use cell phones because of the extremely high risk.”


“Form a Group of Two or Three When Getting Around in China”
     North Korea issued an order to its officers dispatched to China to form a group of two or three when getting around and avoid hanging out alone. This is to prevent any possible defection.  A North Korean official said, The issue of North Korean defectors seems to have become a very sensitive problem in China.  Since late last year, the Chinese government has been advising its people that if someone looking like a North Korean tries to stop their car, don’t stop and report it right away to the government.”  The fact that still more people are trying to get out of North Korea despite the extremely intensified border control reveals the severity of the food shortage in North Korea.

An increasing number of people are trying to get out of North Korea who have never been to China before or do not have anyone to help them there. Another North Korean official said, “When we interrogate the defectors sent back to North Korea, seven out of ten have been aided by their family members who had already fled North Korea and are now settled down in South Korea. The rest three are those who know nothing and just tried to get out. Usually, they are women and children who starved to death and desperately tried to cross the border searching for food.  They say they decided to go to China after hearing that even dogs are eating rice in China and humans can definitely eat well as long as they are willing to work.”


Repercussions of Monitoring Defector Groups on Their Family Members in North Korea
     At the end of April, the National Security Agency defined defector organizations in South Korea as a major enemy and decided to strengthen its monitoring of them. There was even a case that North Korean authorities received intelligence on a plot to bomb statues and buildings at main historic sites across the country organized by defector groups in South Korea, and cracked down on some of those involved.

After reckoning that North Korean defector organizations acting abroad have gone too far in denouncing North Korea, the government decided to take firm action against them. Assuming that there is a linkage between defector groups and their family members still residing in North Korea, the government is re-investigating anti-North Korean activities and the connections between them. Persons who were reported missing are also under reinvestigation. Defectors’ family members in North Korea say that they are going through hard times due to these investigations as well as having difficulty contacting their defector family members due to the government’s efforts to detect illegal phones and jam signals.

Kim Jeong-sun (alias), who had not been able to talk to her older sister in Seoul for months, said: “Our younger brother was in near-fatal condition when he returned home from his military service. But there was no way for me to tell my sister, who had taken care of him like a son, about his condition. Because of body searches at every post, I concealed a phone, burying it in a mountainside, but signal jamming by the government has become more severe. I am really anxious about how worried my sister would be when she eventually hears the news about our brother. As security agents’ monitoring intensifies, they press me hard about when I contacted my sister and what I received from her. I have never felt so miserable like these days.”  The government is carefully watching movements of defectors’ family members while tightening border controls and rendering border areas under the jurisdiction of National Security Agency.  
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