Arrests of North Korean defectors in China continue

Border guards in North Pyongan Province along the Amnok River.
Border guards in North Pyongan Province along the Amnok River. Image: Daily NK (Taken in February 2019)

Daily NK sources based in China has reported that more North Korean defectors have been arrested by Chinese authorities while on their way to a third country, bringing the number of recent cases to six.

“Three defectors were arrested in China on May 29 while meeting with their guide,” a source close to North Korean affairs in China told Daily NK.

Following the arrest of two defectors in Shenyang on May 15, another four defectors, including teenagers aged 13 and 18, were arrested in Nanning on May 21. An additional two defectors were arrested in Shenyang the same day along with two more in Tonghua, Jilin Province. Two male defectors and two female defectors were arrested in Shenyang on May 25 as they waited for their guide at a motel.

Seven defectors, including a nine-year-old, were arrested by Chinese authorities in Shenyang in April.

“There have been so many arrests by the Chinese authorities recently that brokers are unable to help anymore,” the source said.

“There have been a series of arrests of defectors by the Chinese authorities recently,” a South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative confirmed to Daily NK. “The [South Korean government] is carefully watching the situation and undertaking diplomatic efforts to prevent the defectors from being forcibly repatriated to North Korea.”

The recent rise in arrests over the past several months appears to be due to an increasing number of defections from North Korea.

“People hide in the mountains when the weather warms, and this has led to an increase in defections,” said the source. “People who were unable to defect before the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA) elections on March 10 have now made their way into China, which led to the spike in defections in April and May.”

“In the past, defectors who made it to South Korea would bring their families over, but nowadays there are many who are defecting alone,” said the source. “They are defecting because they can’t work or make money and they believe that it’s better to leave the country than just sit around and wait until they die.”

Several representatives of human rights groups actively supporting defectors and a Daily NK source in China have pointed out that there are several characteristics that define the Chinese authorities’ recent crackdown on defectors.

“Nanning is close to Vietnam so the fact that the authorities are arresting people there means that they are actively tracking defectors,” Kim Song-un, the head of Gallup Church, told Daily NK. “The Chinese authorities are tracking their whereabouts through mobile phones and then raiding the locations where defectors are staying.”

A separate Daily NK source in China added that there are many cases where the “Chinese authorities are conducting raids on secret meeting locations […] this means the authorities know exactly where the defectors are meeting before moving to other countries.”

Of the six arrests that occurred in May, the Chinese authorities raided four safehouses where defectors were waiting before attempting to enter other countries.

“The situation suggests that someone is telling the authorities where these secret locations are. Brokers compete with each other and try to ruin each others’ business,” he said.