Defectors choose suicide over arrest and repatriation

A camouflaged North Korean guard post on the Sino-North Korea border. Image: Daily NK file photo

There have been several reported cases where North Koreans attempting to defect to China have committed suicide after being arrested by North Korean border guards and Chinese police.

A North Korean couple crossed the Tumen River in early July to join their daughter, who had defected to China three years earlier, but were arrested by Chinese police. The daughter’s mother committed suicide during detention, North Korean sources reported on August 13.

According to one source in North Hamgyong Province, the woman’s husband had no health issues and the Chinese police repatriated both the husband and his wife’s body back to North Korea a month after their arrest. The Ministry of State Security in North Hamgyong Province is reportedly confirming the identity of the man and investigating the circumstances surrounding the defection and the woman’s death.

“The couple was living in Chongjin City in North Hamgyong Province and was raising their son when their daughter defected. The son was killed in an accident in May and this led the woman to fall into deep depression. They went to China to find their daughter but the woman decided to end her life when they were arrested,” said a separate source based in North Hamgyong Province.

“The woman decided to commit suicide rather than face the inevitable investigation, beatings and prison term,” he continued, expressing sadness over the last desperate act of the victim.

The husband is being investigated by the MSS and has lost the will to live because of the tragedy that has befallen his family.

As previously reported by Daily NK, in June, another family of three who defected to China to get to South Korea committed suicide together after being arrested by the Chinese police. Sources indicated that they likely chose death over the punishment awaiting them back in North Korea.

Suicide is rarely discussed in the media or in public forums in North Korea and is considered a crime against the state. Rumors concerning suicide rarely circulate due to the stigma surrounding it. The mere mention of it can raise the possibility of getting someone or their families into trouble with the authorities.

There have been fewer defections in recent years as the regime has strengthened security around the Sino-DPRK border, and each attempt costs thousands of dollars.

According to multiple Daily NK sources, North Koreans are now increasingly choosing to visit China through legal means or working abroad as laborers to earn money rather than brave the risks of defection. It is also becoming more viable to stay in their home country and earn money through trading, business, real estate, and work-at-home jobs.

Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to