During the famine of the 1990s, when North Korea’s Public Distribution System collapsed and starvation was rampant, many North Koreans had little choice but to cross over into China in search of food and employment. Such was the case of Ms. Bang Mi-sun. However, instead of supporting these escapees, the Chinese government forcibly repatriates them back to North Korea. In order to avoid this situation, Ms. Bang entered into a marriage to a Chinese man, brokered by human traffickers. She was later kidnapped by other traffickers, who again sold her into a marriage where she faced unspeakably horrendous sexual abuse that seriously impacted her health. She was eventually caught by the Chinese police and sent back to North Korea (without receiving proper medical care), where she would go on to face the hardships of the prison system. Similarly, Ms. Ji escaped North Korea, only to be forced to endure sexual slavery for seven months in China, all before being repatriated back to North Korea.
The North Korean people are some of the strongest and most enduring people on the planet. Many have gone through the worst trials and tribulations imaginable, just to escape North Korea. They deserve our respect, as well as our compassion, assistance, and care. However, they face similar, if not worse conditions in China, where their human rights are still not recognized. Instead of allowing them to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation or threatened with deportation, the Chinese government should work to assist these brave escapees and help to make the long and arduous path to freedom end at the Chinese border, instead of making it the second leg of an impossible race.
If you are interested in learning more about conditions for North Korean defectors in China, please visit HRNK.org and look at our report Lives for Sale: Personal Accounts of Women Fleeing North Korea to China.
By HRNK Research Intern Christopher Motola