Since the division of Korean peninsula, North and South Korea have been developing in different directions. To begin with, North Korea moved forward with its Chollima Movement, which coincided with the 1957-1961 Five Year Plan.In the entire period, North Korea focussed on developing its industries and were able to provide basic items such as clothing, food, and housing to all its citizens.South Korea, however faced enormous struggle to recover from the devastating effects of the Korean War. Between the 1950s and the 1960s, per capita income was less than $100 USD, food supply was inadequate, and people were mostly dependent upon foreign aid.
Crossing the 39th parallel directly to South Korea is impossible because of the demilitarized zone, so the refugees trek to the north of China. For the Chinese government, these refugees have no legal status and are treated as illegal migrants.
By the end 1960s, South Korean President Park Chung-lee created new plans for social and economic development, and by 1979 the per capita income increased to $1500 USD. With the rise in international trade, economic growth grew, and this successfully brought South Koreans with better job opportunities, salaries, and improved their living conditions. In North Korea, the Chollima Movement fallout. There were inadequate resources, and many industries came to a halt as there were insufficient resources for production.This adversely affected the production quality, and the productivity of the labour force fell greatly.
As a result, the overall economic output fell, and by the end of the 1960s, the system failed to deliver all its promises. So, by this time South Korea flourished, North Korea suffered severe famine and oppression.Thus by the end of 1960’s, many North Koreans chose to escape North Korea illegally to other nations for food, employment, and most importantly, for freedom. For international community today, these people who defected North Korea are termed as North Korean refugees or defectors, and have certain rights under the international refugee conventions.
Crossing the 39th parallel directly to South Korea is impossible because of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), so the refugees trek to the north of China. For the Chinese government, these refugees have no legal status and are treated as illegal migrants. After labelling this on refugees, the Chinese government strips them from their legal status and rights that are guaranteed to them by international human rights and refugee conventions, which China has ratified.
Despite China’s repeatedly involvement, the international organizations have failed to protect North Korean refugees.
The same agreements renounce the repatriation of refugees to their countries of origin. Despite the agreement to protect the refugees, China continues to offer handsome bounty on the heads of North Korean defectors and once they get caught, China ships them back to North Korea.When these refugees are handed to the North Korean officers, they become subject to “insanity on what one human can do to another”.
The government of China heavily protects the Chinese embassy in an effort to prevent North Korean defectors entering into the area to seek political asylum. It is also important for us to understand that North Korean refugees are subjected to severe human rights violation especially the human rights conventions. Despite China’s repeatedly involvement, the international organizations have failed to protect North Korean refugees. It is imperative for policy makers to find a comprehensive solution to protect the rights of North Korean refugees in order to resolve this humanitarian crisis.
It is important for us to understand the fact that refugees have been defecting North Korea since the creation of the nation in 1948.There is no freedom of movement or expression of any kind in North Korea; emigration does not exist here, and any one leaving the nation will be considered as a defector in the eyes of the government. Defectors in North Korea are subjected to severe punishments.Despite facing severe consequences, many North Koreans choose to defect their nation rather living a life poverty and without freedom.
It is estimated that within this four-year period, between 240,000 and 3,500,000 North Koreans died from starvation or hunger-related health issues.
The initials batches that left North Korea were due to political reasons. The then communist government oppressed its people, disregarded personal rights and severally violated human rights. People were severely discriminated on the basis of race, creed and wealth.Because of such inhabitable conditions, lack of political freedom, rendering them they were termed as political defectors. By the end of the 20th Century, people began “defecting” North Korea because of its severe economic conditions. Outside its capital Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, North Korea was largely impoverished.
When Korean peninsula was separated into two sovereign nations, North Korea relied on self-establishment. By the 1970s, the entire economy of the nation collapsed, giving poor international trade a blame in the international arena. Thus, starvation and malnutrition increased phenomenally high. By 1994 food availability reached the low of 25% as North Korea lost the only communist ally, the Soviet Union.
Natural disasters, such as floods and droughts, amplified the crisis, which further resulted an acute widespread famine which lasted around 1988-92. It is estimated that within this four-year period, between 240,000 and 3,500,000 North Koreans died from starvation or hunger-related health issues.
The famine became a major cause of large masses of North Koreans to leave the nation. Many refugees tried to enter China, in an effort to have what little they knew as “faith in the system”. Today, they are recognised as refugees by many nongovernmental organizations due to the poor conditions they are fleeing. This ambiguity in the definition of these people makes it incredibly difficult for them to seek support from nongovernmental organizations and foreign nations.
Female refugees particularly are the most vulnerable here: many are sold to Chinese traders as brides and are forced to work as slaves.
The Situation Today
Because of the heavily guarded DMZ, only a handful of people make it through the 38th parallel. Thus, any North Korean who intends to leave the nation has to first go to China, which is north of North Korea. In China, North Koreans do not have legal status and are treated as illegal migrants. UNHCR estimated that in 2012, there were approximately 200,000 North Koreans refugees in China, living a life constantly under radar, without any formal support from the government.
Female refugees particularly are the most vulnerable here: many are sold to Chinese traders as brides and are forced to work as slaves.Third party brokers are then paid between 120 USD and 1890 USD for each woman. In this forced marriages, North Korean women are subjected to manipulation, violence, and abuse. They are then controlled through threats of arrest and deportation.
Chinese authorities rigorously track down these refugees and return them back to North Korea, despite being a signatory to many international laws that prevent repatriation of refugees. South Korea offers any North Koreans who can reach South Korea or foreign missions of South Korea full citizenship as well as access to resettlement funds and education programs that would allow them to begin a new life in South Korea.
China’s repeated violations of such international laws raises a lot of question over china’s interests in North Korea.
This however, is not easy as it looks like. Without legal documents, North Koreans cannot buy an air ticket to any state in South Korea. Out of desperation many refugees attempt to receive political asylum by reaching the Chinese embassy. More surprisingly, if a North Korean refugee enters a Chinese embassy, the Chinese officials cannot arrest as the land is considered to be sovereign. But this has proven to be dangerous and risky because Chinese authorities heavily guard the outskirts of those embassies to prevent North Korean refugees from entering, and arrest and repatriate those who are caught.
Due to such obstacles, many refugees choose to go to third nations, such as Laos and Thailand, in an effort to seek South Korean membership or political asylum.In order to do this these refugees will be forced to travel from the northeast region of China bordering North Korea to the jungles in southwest China through an underground rail road which is normally run by drug lords or smugglers. From there, they may get into nations such as like Thailand where they may seek asylum at foreign missions.Many refugees also have the option to trek to Mongolia from China, where they may also seek asylum.The journey however includes,crossing the entire Gobi Desert, which is itself a very treacherous route which exposes refugees to unforgiving atmosphere.
The issue is quite significant because it not only involves the violation of international human rights but also involves nations that are promoting and supporting those doing it. To begin with, China has ratified international treaties such as the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees that prevents the nation from forcibly repatriating refugees back to the home nation.
Despite severe condemnation from the international community and numerous requests from the South Korean leaders to stop the repatriation of North Korean refugees, China does not seem to ignore international requests. China’s repeated violations of such international laws raises a lot of question over china’s interests in North Korea. When North Korean’s are sent back, they are harshly interrogated and sent to forced labour camps called gulags. In some cases, even multiple generations of a refugee’s family may be punished.
The international communities have put the blame on China’s conscious, the growing paranoia of Pyongyang continues to create on and off screen debates in the media, “the failure to stop violation of human rights of North Korean refugees have failed the peace process and have also raised severe questions on the handling mechanism of United Nations and its agencies”, a senior diplomat said.
The resolution of this issue is a must and this can go a long positive direction through Inter Korean summits when South Korea can Reach out directly to the North Korean leaders, as well as China, to establish a consensus on the treatment of refugees and the recognition of their fundamental human rights.