Defectors Whose Fates Change after Crossing the River

[imText1]Choi: In the case of defectors who enter China, their fates change depending on who they meet for the first time. Along the Yalu River are the Chinese border cities Changbai facing Hyesan, Linjiang facing Jungkangjin, and Jian facing Manpo. At the Tumen River are Sanhe facing Hoiryeong, Kaishantun facing Sambong, and Tumen facing Namyang.

The fates of defectors who succeed at crossing the river depend on whether the first person they meet is a Chinese or a North Korean, a sex trafficker or an ordinary farmer. Female defectors are mostly subject to human trafficking as soon as they land set foot on China.

Further, defectors first become exposed to Chinese society and information at this time. If they are given food, requisite information to escape the border region, or transformation money, than it becomes comparably easier to have a soft landing in China. Otherwise, they have to choose drastic means.

Though rare, male defectors even commit theft and murder by going into Chinese farm households for money and food or live in hiding by entering deep mountainous regions and building dugouts.

Also, news have been relayed that defectors who have built dugouts in the mountains and have been living in hiding have been rounded up by the border unit by one or two carloads.

Kim: Even if defectors leave the border region and arrive in a Chinese metropolis, it is extremely difficult for them to independently prepare their means of living. It is an identity issue. Defectors usually flow into Chinese cities where Korean-Chinese live. But to defectors, these Korean-Chinese cities are just like a “double-edged sword.” Due to the Korean nation’s sentiment and the commonality of language, there is high possibility of receiving help, but where Korean-Chinese residents exists in a higher percentage, the incidents of Chinese Public Security rounding-up defectors is higher.

In China’s Dongbeisansheng (three Northeast provinces: Jilin, Liaoning and Heilongjiang where defectors live mostly), especially in Jilin, cases regarding illegal entrants and North-China border issues are always brought up for discussion at the Public Security Office’s Annual Reporting Conference which is held in January or February every year. However, if one goes to Shandong (a middle-east province), for example, Chinese public security officers do not even know the words “defector” or “illegal entrant.” Thus, if strictly considering safety, then the further the North Korea-China border region and the lower the percentage of Korean-Chinese people, the better it is for defectors.

However, due to the language issue, it is impossible to prepare a residence or place of employment. As a result, countless defectors do not easily go beyond Dongbeisansheng. Conversely, because they are living in the three Northeast provinces, the defectors are always under the threat of getting arrested by the Chinese Public Security.

Reporter: The situation of North Korean defectors has been becoming more well-known in the international society these last 10 years. Yet, many people still do not know what the necessary means of aid are for the defectors who are in China. Besides having to move to the safer countries including South Korea in order to escape the threat of arrest and being forcibly sent back to North Korea, specific details are not known. Could you explain what “helping defectors” means in China by focusing on your activities?

Lee: It is embarrassing for me to answer if you ask your question that way. To be honest, I do not do very much and do not deserve to be here, among the interviewees. On average, I help around 10 defectors. I provide living expenses and residences, and teach Chinese and computer, and international common knowledge.

Only, I do not intervene in the events that the defectors I am protecting go to South Korea. I agree in principle with the defectors leaving for South Korea, but in reality, I can protect five to six defectors in China for the same cost and time required to send one defector who is in China to South Korea.

Frankly, aren’t there several people who bring defectors to South Korea or the U.S. in the defector aid field? However, there are not too many people who provide protection, treatment, and education to the defectors while they are residing in China. So I think, “I should do these kinds of work.”

Protecting defectors includes provision of food, clothing, shelter and education

Furthermore, I am doing this work alone without the support of special NGOs or religious organizations. I am currently working on a small business in China and it is enough to get by for my family and to help defectors minimally. By my capacity, I can only help around 10 people’s basic food, shelter, and clothing. To help defectors in China, the issue from the beginning to end is “money.” Subsequently, I have held onto the principle of not refusing defectors who seek me out, but not holding onto defectors who leave me as well.

However, I do not receive those who leave me to go to the US or to South Korea or to search for a job. It is just that if I provide excessive expenditure for one person, the living or educational standards for other defectors become weaker. Come next year, it will be 10 years since I have started this work, but the number of people I have met so far have exceeded 400 and the people I have taken care of around 7-80. Among them, there have been people who were dragged back to North Korea, those who settled in South Korea, and those who even went to the States. Of course, there have been more people with whom I have lost contact. I wonder how they are living now and worry about them, too.

I wish that defectors could possibly go back to their hometowns, but in reality, this is not their situation. What I would like for defectors is to grow their independence and self-reliance. When one looks at history from a long-term perspective, the Kim Jung Il regime will be toppled and North Korea will step foot on the path towards open and reform.

If so, I believe that new opportunities will come to North Korean citizens. How poor are the people who die from starvation, from sickness, from drowning while crossing the border? Isn’t the work that a person like me can do helping just one defector to stay alive and persevere until new life opportunities arise? (continues)