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ICC Note: North Korean citizens who risk their lives in order to escape horrific human rights abuses are not safer when they leave North Korea, especially women. Furthermore, Beijing works together with Pyongyang in order to detain escapees and send them back to North Korea where they face severe persecution and imprisonment. Female escapees are often being abducted, trafficked, and sold to Chinese or Korean men. UN Commission has criticized the Chinese government for its violation of human rights. International community needs to pressure Chinese government to change its policy.

10/04/2017 North Korea (The Wire) – As North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and provocative missile tests draw the world’s attention, one crucial reality about the totalitarian regime has been left largely unnoticed: as bleak as life is for most who live in North Korea, it is often far worse for those who flee – most of whom are forced to suffer horrific human rights abuses away from the world’s scrutiny.

Since China shares a border with North Korea, it has become the first destination for desperate North Koreans who risk their lives to escape. An unofficial figure estimates that there are between 50,000 and 200,000 North Koreans living in China. The Chinese government denies most of them refugee status, instead treating them as economic migrants who have illegally crossed the border to seek work. Most have no formal identification or legal status. In addition, Beijing works together with Pyongyang to capture defectors and send them back, making their lives as escapees completely untenable.

I have interviewed many North Koreans now settled in the UK. Many of them told me they had been caught by the Chinese police and repatriated to the north a number of times, but managed to escape again and again. The combination of desperation, the denial of legal status and the terror of the Chinese police operation exposes these people to gross exploitation – especially women.

Among those who successfully leave North Korea, women make up the majority. In their search for freedom, many of them paradoxically end up being trafficked, detained and treated inhumanely because of their precarious and insecure positions in China as “illegal migrants”.

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