Many churches assisting North Korean defectors in China close, missionaries say

Ministry of Public Security officers inspecting a car in Dandong, China. Image: Daily NK

Heightened restrictions on religious organizations in China are taking their toll on the activities of missionaries in China, many of whom engage in rescue efforts to help North Korean defectors gain asylum in safe countries.

“A lot of churches in China closed down following restrictions enacted last February. The Chinese authorities have been coming after both authorized and unauthorized churches, which has in turn undermined the defector rescue work carried out by missionaries,” a source in China close to North Korean affairs told Daily NK.

South Korean missionaries and religious groups in China have been playing key roles in protecting North Korean defectors and bringing them to South Korea.

The State Council, China’s administrative authority, passed new regulations on religious affairs that took effect in February 2018. While the ordinance conferred a host of rights to state-registered religious organizations, including the possession of property and donation collection, it also included heightened government controls. The revised rules include restrictions on religious schooling and the monitoring of online activity. Penalties for breaking the rules have increased, and the organizers of unapproved events are now subject to fines from 100,000 to 300,000 yuan.

“The Chinese authorities shut down a church in Dandong back in September and all the affiliated missionaries were deported. This left the defectors they had been helping without support,” one missionary in China told Daily NK.

Another missionary from a similar background noted that his organization had not yet had any issues with the Chinese authorities but they had nevertheless “significantly curtailed their activities due to the current climate.”

“Humanitarian work transcends religion doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we able to work with the Chinese government in that respect?” he postulated.