North Koreans who attempt to escape the brutal Kim regime through China are increasingly being apprehended by the Chinese regime and deported back, according to reports. Those who were forcefully returned face certain imprisonment, torture, and even execution.
Human Rights Watch estimated that in July and August alone China apprehended 41 North Koreans attempting to flee their home country by crossing over into and through China, a steep increase from the 51 who are known to have been caught the entire previous year, from July 2016 to June 2017. North Korean escapees were caught in various locations inside China from the North Korea-China border all the way to Lao-China border in Yunnan Province.
The fact that North Koreans were being caught as far away as Yunnan means that some of them traveled thousands of miles inside China and were a short distance away from freedom before the Chinese regime’s security apparatus sealed their fate.
The intensified crackdown on North Korean escapees likely started in July, as China arrested a number of local guides that help North Koreans pass through China. As news of the crackdown spread, guides and activists within the existing “rescue network” became more reluctant to take the risk of transporting unfamiliar escapees as they were fearful of being betrayed to the Chinese authorities.
Among the 92 North Korean escapees that were caught since June 2016, only 46 are still in Chinese custody and the rest have been deported back to North Korea, according to Human Rights Watch. The North Korean regime imposes severe punishment on those attempting to escape the country. Most would be imprisoned in concentration camps and face torture and abuse, and some of them would be executed, according to Human Rights Watch.
The deportation of North Korean refugees back to North Korea has been identified as a violation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its accompanying 1967 Protocol. China is a signatory country for both. Article 33 of the Convention, also known as the principle of non-refoulement, prohibits countries from expelling or returning a refugee where “his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”
The Chinese regime considers North Korean refugees only as “illegal economic migrants” rather than refugees or asylum seekers, despite the fact that these North Koreans are internationally recognized as refugees who would face severe persecution upon return.
North Korea has also stepped up its own efforts to crackdown on defections. In a recent report, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said that 780 North Koreans eventually reached safety in the South between January and August, a significant decline from the same period one year previously, the Telegraph reported.