Thursday, March 24, 2005

UNHCR REPORT ON NORTH KOREANS IN CHINA

Full text can be read here (executive summary here). A couple of snippets:
The official Chinese estimate of the number of North Koreans in China is 10,000, but the real figure is several times that number. It is possible that there were as many as 200,000 at the peak of the famine. The most active NGOs in the area estimate (based on extrapolation from village surveys) that there have been 300,000 or more, but this is probably an exaggeration. More distant (and thus perhaps more objective) organizations put the numbers at between 10,000 and 50,000 in the year 2002, and since then, well under 50,000.
I'm fascinated by the way in which the numbers in estimates such as these always seem to creep up to the high end (and beyond) in most media reports. When is the last time you read a report that didn't say something like "as many as 200,000" rather than "as few as 10,000"?

As is all too often the case, women don't fare well in situations like these:
Indeed, women face great hazards. They are often forced into sexual slavery, and are sometimes subject to rape. Despite this, today, more than three quarters of the North Korean immigrants are women. Female refugees have more options than do males. Many women have found employment and shelter as domestic workers, though they often end up in prostitution. Even women who find more orthodox employment often find themselves over-worked and under-paid.

Some women become wives. A few manage to marry men from Korea (either North or South), but more commonly they marry local ethnic Koreans. Sometimes this is arranged by brokers either in China or pre-arranged in North Korea; in other cases people sheltering the women arrange, or press, for them to marry locally. Although the arrangements can be exploitive, the women tend to consider themselves lucky ? compared with imprisonment or being hungry in North Korea. However, many of the women are virtual sex slaves, before leaving their country often having placed themselves in the hands of professional bride traffickers. Many North Korean parents think that it is better to send their daughters to China than for them to remain at home. At the same time, many of China’s ethnic Korean farmers have difficulty finding local wives (the young women being attracted to the cities to work). Sometimes the system produces satisfactory marriages to ethnic Koreans, but all too often, the purchased women are resold to other men, often ethnic Chinese; sooner or later they land in the hands of the police.


A first-person account of a forcible return to North Korea:
Human Rights Watch report describes the observations of a former border guard who was repatriated in Musan in April 2000:
While we were crying loudly, they brought us to the Chilsung customs house in Musan. A North Korean officer of the National Security Agency greeted us there, shaking hands with each of us, saying, ‘Good job!’ However, after the Chinese turned back, the officer shouted, ‘Kneel down, you son of a bitch’. They checked our pockets. They forced my wife to take off her talle-baji (tailored trousers) and took them away, because they symbolized capitalism. She had to stay, wearing only her underwear, even though it was very cold outside. They also took the South Korean clothing off people. They investigated whether the repatriated people had any relationship with South Korea…. If a person met South Koreans or reporters or wrote articles, or attended church or escaped after committing a crime in North Korea, they would be secretly killed, without even God knowing.
Read the whole thing.

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