Tragedy Is Inherited for Refugees

The terrible human rights abuses against refugees in China are still going on. Among them, the human trafficking of young women is thriving. The State Council of the People’s Republic of China estimates that 38 million older bachelors in rural provinces of China have difficulty finding a spouse. In practice, some are consumers of North Korean women who cross the border.

Depending upon the locations the women have to move to after being sold, their age and health condition, they sell for between a few thousand and 15 thousand Yuan.

Those who are involved in human trafficking are not always gangsters, but general citizens in rural areas certainly sell North Korean women. In some bad cases, women are sold to people in western or southern provinces, thousands of kilometers from the northeastern provinces where refugees generally take shelter. Some of them don’t know even where their new home is, or even whether they are in China, according to NGO activists.

One such activist, Mr. Choi said, “I have faced many difficult situations. A woman called me to ask to be rescued after being sold, but she didn’t know where she was! Some of them don’t know Chinese letters or language at all because they have just escaped from North Korea. When I meet such cases, I can’t sleep at night.”

The pains women in China suffer are passed down to the second generation. Their key problem is statelessness. Some children cross the border with their parents but lose them for some reason, while some are born to a Chinese father and North Korean mother. Registration of the birth is impossible for them, so the child becomes effectively stateless.

They have already grown up into their late teens while isolated from both medical welfare guarantees and the educational system. One further hardship; since 2007, the Chinese government has been completing the renewal of domestic ID cards after the computerization of the resident registration system. Therefore, bribing officials to get an ID has become impossible.

In Xita, which is considered a “Korean town” in Shenyang, Daily NK met Park Sung Hwa (pseudonym), a 21 year old from North Hamkyung Province. In 1997, as a 10-year old girl she came to China with her mother. Fortunately her mother met a good Korean-Chinese husband. Her stepfather got her an education, so she graduated from elementary school and learned Chinese. Living in Xita, she can speak Korean fluently as well. She has not felt any fear of repatriation, but the biggest problem for her is statelessness.

“As a North Korean person, I’m lucky to live here even in this situation, which is much better than in North Korea. However, while other Chinese friends have entered university after graduation from high school, I work as a waitress in restaurants. There are only two opportunities for those who’ve only graduated from elementary school: masseuse and waitress. I am seeing a Chinese guy and want to get married to him and to settle down in this society. However, I don’t have Chinese resident registration, so it is hard to marry him, and also this unstable situation will cause problems for my kids, too. We won’t have any way to report my baby’s birth.”

There are old refugee issues too. Although the Chinese police are fearful of North Korean refugees, they rarely arrest the old. They have different problems.

Those who entered China in their 50s are now in their 60s. They are distraught because they do not have any graveyard to go to when they die. If they went back to their hometown, it would cause damage to their children; but ending their lives in China makes them sorrowful.

An elderly lady, Ms. Han from Wangqing introduced her story.

“I first came here in 1996. I had been caught three times and returned to North Korea, but now the Chinese police do not try to catch me. It’s really hard to earn money now, so I can’t send money to my children in North Korea. When a Chosun lady one year older than me died last year, the Chinese police burned her body. She did not have any ID in China, so a notice of death was also impossible. We don’t know where they threw away the ashes; on some river or a mountain. If they just threw them away in the Tumen River then that would be good for us.”

It has been more than 15 years since North Korean residents started to gather in China. Some of them succeeded in coming to South Korea and starting a new life, some others died of starvation or torture after being forcefully sent back to North Korea. Some died in unknown forests of Vietnam or Laos, or in the endless deserts of Mongolia. Their names and numbers have never been made public. Still, at this very moment, the march of North Korean people towards China is ongoing. Without profound and fundamental change in North Korean society, we cannot break the loop of this tragedy.