[imText1]The defection route, road trapped and the fee rises
Reporter: I am curious about the current situation of defectors. First, what is the process for defectors stepping foot on China through the defection route?
Lee: The path of defectors has continuously changed in the last 10 years. In one word, it is becoming increasingly difficult. First, until the end of the 90s, the entire region from the Yalu River, Dandong to the Tumen River in Fangchuan (防川) along the North Korea-China border were considered as “a river crossing region.” However, the Yalu River estuary is close to 100 meters and there are people who cross the river carrying a plastic bottle. Most of these people simply crossed the river to the Chinese without any preparation.
Originally, North Korean border guards’ first duty was being on guard for foreign enemies infiltrating through the border, but from 1998 to 1999, their first line of duty changed to intercepting North Korean citizens trying to cross the river to China. Until the early 1990s, civilians in the North Korean border cities did not even think about “defecting to China.” Teenagers who landed in China after winning a bet of “who could swim quicker” after a single drink were common occurrences.
After 1999, the approach of average civilians to the Tumen and Yalu Rivers started being regulated and inspection of travel passes for civilians moving to North Hamkyung, Yangkang, Jagang Province, and North Pyongan Province were exacerbated. The inspection of border cities riding the Yalu and Tumen Rivers such as Hoiryeong, Musan, Hyesan, Manpo, Sakju, Shinuiju became worse.
Because the North Korean authorities systematized a hostile attitude towards defectors, safely crossing the river without bribing the guards became impossible since 2000. Since then, bribes offered to border guards started building like market prices.
When looking over the last 10 years, the fee rose by 100~200 Yuan every year and is now around 1,000 yuan. Of course, that does not guarantee the safety of defectors. From November 2006, a large-scale relocation of the border garrison was carried out and the order was passed down that “regardless of the amount of money received from a defector, catching one person will allow entrance to the party.”
Reporting by Chinese scarier than the border unit
Park: There has not been a remarkable change on the part of the Chinese government regarding defectors coming into China. It is not like they are actively inspecting Tumen and Yalu Rivers so that defectors cannot cross at the rivers.
Several years ago, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army under the auspices of the Shenyang township were stationed at the Yanbian region and started river-crossing training from the Yalu River to North Korea, but the border region duty is still being managed by the Chinese border unit. The “border unit” is a term that does not exist in the Korean army, so an explanation is not easy, but it can be thought of as a military unit that is fully in charge of border duty and public security. It is considerably different from the portion of China’s southern border and western border directly controlled by the People’s Liberation Army.
If the defectors succeed at crossing the river, the border unit is not a huge obstacle to leaving the border region and moving to a Chinese city. Of course, there are several People’s Security checkpoints and border units along the road connecting China’s Tumen River border region and the Yanbian region cities.
However, the North Korean border guard rarely conducts checks unless there is a military desertion or defector-related murder incident. Defectors who first defect to China enter a Chinese mid-size city within three days to a week. Of course, defectors who have experience living in China use China’s mass transportation system as well.
Defectors who are arrested and forcibly sent back to North Korea from China say they were arrested after being “reported” by neighbors after they have started living in China. Defectors fear more the “reporting” of Chinese people who know that they are defectors rather than the Chinese border guards and the People’s Security’s detection.