Save North Korean Refugees Day: This Friday, September 22nd

What sort of place could be so horrible that a family of five would choose to die together rather than be sent there? The answer, of course, is this place, or this one, or this one, or this. Here is the story of a family that made that choice.

A North Korean family of five, including a former senior official of the Workers Party, committed suicide last week after they were caught by Chinese police and faced deportation to the North. They were heading to South Korea.

Activist Kim Hee-tae told the Chosun Ilbo on Sunday, “Fifteen defectors who were on their way to South Korea were caught by police in the Chinese province of Yunnan a week ago.”

“They killed themselves by taking poison after they were taken to Shenyang, Liaoning Province three days ago and faced deportation to the North,” he added. They were a 50-something senior official of a regional agency of the Workers Party, his wife, son and two daughters.

“Right after they were caught in Yunnan, they tried to bribe their way out through a local fixer, but once they were taken to Shenyang they probably lost hope and killed themselves,” Kim speculated. [Chosun Ilbo]

The story was also reported by Radio Free Asia. Otherwise, the U.S. and foreign press almost completely ignored the story. Did they fail to even investigate it, or did they run into a stone wall in trying to find the truth in China? I wonder if we will ever even know their names. Try to imagine the moment of that terrible choice. Imagine the words they spoke to one another as they prepared for that possibility. Imagine their thoughts as they all realized that they would have to go through with it. Imagine their last words to each other. Imagine what dreams, aspirations, and potential the children might have had to live lives that we, in our ingratitude, refer to as “normal.” They are not alone in making that choice.

China’s long-standing policy of forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees only complicates the dangers and difficulties faced by refugees. China does not consider North Koreans refugees but illegal economic migrants to be sent back to their home country, under a border protocol agreed upon in 1986.

“Many of the refugees carry razor blades to slit their wrists or arsenic with which to commit suicide in case they are forcibly repatriated,” Peters said. [S. China Morning Post]

Now, imagine the cruelty of governments that inflict this on people for no greater crime than aspiring to eat, to survive, to live a life that is better than slavery. Imagine the cruelty of a government — of China’s government — which sends them back to a fate this family judged to be far worse than the death it chose instead.

Then, come out Friday and protest against it, on Save North Korean refugees day.

Even in China, where the government has increased its repatriations of refugees to North Korea, and even pays bounties for their arrests — repatriations that a U.N. Commission of Inquiry has described as complicity with crimes against humanity — there are signs that public anger at North Korea’s belligerence is growing.

In South Korea, there are also growing doubts about the government’s commitment to the protection of North Korean refugees. The president himself is a former member of a hard-left lawyers’ group that is trying to violate refugees’ right to confidentiality. One South Korean official was recently charged with selling refugees’ personal information — information that could be used to identify and intimidate North Korean refugees by threatening their families inside North Korea, and to force them to “re-defect.” Hundreds of North Korean refugees who had made it to South Korea are unaccounted for. Most are believed to be in foreign countries, but which countries?

Our news media hardly paid any attention to the tragedy of the Yunnan Five, but Pyongyang certainly did. It launched a massive security crackdown to cover their story up, to punish those who failed to prevent their escape, and to track down anyone who might have helped them escape. In North Korea, any lapse in brutality begets greater acts of brutality, and everyone is a hostage to the obedience of everyone else. Truth is the greatest enemy of the state, because even the most repressive states know that the truth will eventually destroy them.

In the last year, the number of defectors from the military and the elites has risen. The defectors now include even diplomats, senior officials from the internal security forces, and workers posted overseas. If only for utilitarian reasons, we should look on refugees as potential allies. Consider, for example, the Justice Department documents that have cited the testimonies of refugees in forfeiture suits against regime funds. If the humanity of North Korean refugees isn’t reason enough reason to support their cause, the fact that they can help us bankrupt Kim Jong-un and break his hold on power should be. But for now, the regime is winning its war against its people. Although more members of the elites are escaping, the overall number of North Koreans who successfully escape continues to fall because of Kim Jong-un’s border crackdown.

That is why Pyongyang is so desperate to intimidate Seoul into returning refugees, or to intimidate the refugees themselves into “re-defecting,” so that it can put them on display as examples to other North Koreans, and as propaganda props to deceive gullible journalists (and thereby, us). Koreans — don’t turn away from your brothers and sisters. Americans — don’t let our government forget these people. Doing so is short-sighted. It is against our interests. It is against our values. It is not who we are. Please share this post, and join us this Friday.

3 Comments

  1. China will never become a respected world leader until it changes its policy of detaining NK defectors. Nobody is asking China to provide extra security to these poor people. Abide by the international laws to those oppressed and persecuted to be brought before the proper jurisdiction so their survival can be handled in legal and humane way.

    I also blame Moon Jae In and his so-called “government” for failing to propose or adopt a simple monetary compensation to China for its “troubles” so that your brothers and sisters can be saved. Even if its symbolic in nature, what the hell is wrong with making the Chinese really think about what they are doing to these people.

    President Moon “used to be” a human rights lawyer. How true.




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  2. We know China’s policy with regard to NK defectors has always been to accommodate China first, then NK, followed distantly by SK and others…

    President Moon, a human rights lawyer, has done a terrible job of fostering NK defectors in South Korea. If the citizens of South Korea are not educated and required to welcome, protect and support these courageous mass from the North, how can we expect anybody in China to respect the rights of “inferior” Chosun people from the border?

    China ONLY cares about China period. It could careless about daily human rights violations in China (rape, forced marriages, extortion, forced repatriation) suffered by people who are even shunned by their own brothers and sisters in Seoul. When a Chinese idiot tourist was arrested in Germany for making a Nazi salute, when a person initially thought to be Chinese-American was forcefully thrown off a United airline flight, and there is more, Chinese media was quick to set the narrative concerning the rights of “Chinese” citizens being ignored and trampled by ignorant and racist Western influences.

    Moon and his so-called controlling party must do more here. If Moon’s government is willing to pledge 8 million dollars to help those hungry people in North, it must also be ready to pledge a significant amount of support to those willing to risk their lives to escape the grasp of Kim regime and those who are struggling to make it in Seoul.




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