As a follow-up to to the previous post, I would like to give some more depth to the North Korean refugee situation.

China’s Yanbian province, which shares its border with North Korea, is the hub of a major humanitarian crisis for China. This is the only escape route out of North Korea, however China is never the destination. Often times refugees look for passages to a third country, preferably South Korea, Mongolia, or Thailand, who are welcoming to refugees despite North Korea’s discontent. The reason they will rarely stay in China is due to the fact that Chinese officials will repatriate refugees and be sent to a labor camp for punishment, including physical and emotional abuses.

Human security is also at risk for the refugees themselves. If they are lucky to be able to stay in China or make it to a third country, these refugees face other challenges, which may arguably be just as bad as the abuses they suffered in North Korea. Women and children are at the biggest risk for exploitation. Many women are forced into sex trafficking or bribing officials with sexual favors so that they can ensure safe passage into China. Many are later sold to human trafficking, forced to work in the black market sex industry, or as unofficial “brides” for Chinese men. Children are forced into hiding and therefore do not get the education they need.

Despite signing various treaties that allow refugees to flee there, China does not regard international law in the least when it comes to North Korean refugees. The core issue that marks China’s stance on refugees is its diplomatic relations with North Korea. It is one of China’s allies, and while they officially state they do not approve of North Korean actions (such as military threats), they will turn a blind eye to its human rights abuses for the sake of political and diplomatic security. For the most part, it believes in keeping the peace with North Korea and that belief entails repatriating refugees despite the horrific fate they face upon repatriation. In the rare cases they do allow asylum for refugees and allow them to leave for a third country, they do not send them to South Korea so they do not anger their allies in Pyongyang.This threatens China’s diplomatic relations with countries who place emphasis on human rights as a necessary factor for national development in China and trustworthiness, which may isolate China from political alliances.



David R. Hawk, The Hidden Gulag. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea): 2003, 115.

“Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” UNHCR News.

James D. Seymour, “Well-founded Fear,” (New York: Human Rights in China): 2000.