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ICC Note: Though Christianity is illegal and highly repressed in North Korea, the Church is growing there in an underground movement.  Many North Korean defectors also first encounter the gospel message when they enter China or South Korea, as many are assisted by Christians during their escape.  As China’s repression against defectors increase, will the North Korean Church grow in the face of such persecution?

7/5/11 Seoul (AsiaNews) – In the first 6 months of 2011, more than 1400 people have fled from North Korea and have taken refuge in the South. The number represents an increase of 14% compared to the same period last year, and is explained by an increase in the fierce repression of not only North Korea but also Beijing. In previous years China – the first destination of almost all those who flee – had operated a policy of lukewarm welcome, but in the last months this has disappeared, giving way to a “man hunt” against the Koreans.

The data was published by Hanawon, the Centre for the reception and education of North Korean refugees based in Seoul. According to the figures, 15% of the exiles enter the South less than a year after fleeing the North: this figure is rising as they usually spend at least three years in China to cover their tracks. Family “reunifications” are also on the rise: even if the practice is illegal, 11% of the refugees said they fled to be reunited with their loved ones.

Immediately after the data was released, a spokesman for Hanawon explained: “It seems absurd, but the strengthening of Chinese repression against the exiles is the main cause of the increase. Beijing is becoming even more severe, and thus the Koreans flee as soon as possible. More cases of entire families fleeing because they fear, if apprehended in China, being sent home and condemned to death there. “

According to the Centre, 75% of those who run away are between 20 and 49 years of age: 15% are adolescent; 5% more over 50 while the remaining 5% are 60 years or more. Women are 72% of the total, a decrease of 4% from 2009-2010. Most of the exiles, in North Korea, were farmers or unemployed, 6% worked in the sphere of the technical or administrative authority, 3.3% were in small business while the 1, 3% belonged to the army.