Daily NK learned recently that Chinese police investigated a group of female defectors from North Korea rather than deporting them back to North Korea immediately. Sources have interpreted this move by the Chinese authorities as a reaction to incidents in which North Korean women were married to Chinese men by human traffickers and later escaped to South Korea – thereby leaving a fractured family behind. 

A source based in China told Daily NK on Dec. 12 that the police in a village in Liaoning Province rounded up “dozens of North Korean women who had defected.” They were questioned by the foreign affairs division of the Ministry of Public Security in three interrogation sessions. He reported that the Chinese officials “asked the women about their personal relations, their relatives, and their residence back in North Korea.”

Daily NK also learned that the Chinese police asked very detailed questions about the women’s’ defection process, including their defection routes. One source told Daily NK that the officials “asked which paths they took to sneak into China, and whether they defected independently or had a Chinese trafficker who facilitated their defection. They also asked who the identities of the traffickers were.” 

“The Chinese police officers furthermore photographed the women both from the front and in profile, and they took their fingerprints,” a source added. The pictures will most likely added to a facial recognition systems which the Chinese authorities have adopted to both maintain law and order and control the citizens. The authorities are apparently also using the system to better conduct surveillance on female defectors from North Korea. “The police are trying to take a more systematic approach to their surveillance of female defectors,” the source said. 


In this case, Chinese authorities clearly intended to identify human traffickers and stop people smuggling between China and North Korea, rather than deporting female defectors back to their home country.

In fact, Daily NK sources reported that the Chinese police advised the women during the three interrogation sessions to refrain from engaging in the smuggling of people themselves and to report anyone involved in human trafficking, regardless if they’re North Korean or Chinese.

According to a source, the authorities might have intended to raise awareness among the women. “This was the first time that the Chinese police conducted educational sessions with North Korean defector women in this manner. In the past, they would have been deported immediately,” he said. “It seems like China’s policy towards North Korean defectors is changing.”

female defectors
Hundreds of North Korean women were seen carrying bags through them northeast Chinese city of Helong. / Image: Daily NK

The Chinese police also reportedly stressed that women shouldn’t get in contact with South Koreans or even go to South Korea. And yet “another instruction they gave was to report any change in address to the police if they were planning on moving from their registered residence to another place,” the source added. 


These measures are interpreted as Chinese officialdom’s response to a social issue – the abrupt departure of North Korean women to South Korea, leaving both their Chinese husbands and children behind.

Sources reported an incident to Daily NK in which a North Korean woman was abused by her Chinese husband and attempted to return to North Korea. “She was discovered by the Chinese border patrol and the police brought her back to her husband,” a source from China explained. 

According to the source, the North Korean police were unable to verify her identity as requested by the Chinese border patrol and so they provided her with food and clothes and persuaded her to return to her husband’s home.

It is very rare for female North Korean defectors to avoid being deported back to North Korea, sources explained to Daily NK. However, there’s been a shift in the treatment of North Korean women who had fled to China. Facing less of a chance of being deported back to North Korea, the number of North Korean women in China who want to go to South Korea has also decreased, sources said. 

“There have recently been fewer investigations and deportations of women who defected from North Korea. Many are content to stay there rather than continue their journey to South Korea,” a source said. “Those married to Chinese men don’t need to risk defection to South Korea anymore if the Chinese authorities officially recognize their residence in the country.”

*Translated by Violet Kim and edited by Laura Geigenberger

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.