Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Network Aids Fleeing N. Koreans

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Network Aids Fleeing N. Koreans

Article excerpt

The rolling hills, amber cornfields, and thatched-roofed cottages that dot this northeast Chinese frontier town seem an unlikely outpost for an underground railway ferrying North Koreans away from hunger.

Yet some residents of Tumen and other Chinese cities and villages on the Chinese-North Korean border are secretly helping handfuls of refugees escape from the famine that is spreading across much of neighboring North Korea.

While most of its citizens remain trapped within one of the world's most closely guarded countries, "more and more North Koreans are attempting to slip past the patrols that line both sides of the border with China," says a local Chinese trader. "In some spots, the Tumen River {which divides the North and China} is only waist deep, and quite easy to ford." "An increasing number of North Koreans are deciding the prospect of starvation at home outweighs the dangers of the crossing," says the trader, who frequently travels to the North. International aid groups say 10 percent of North Korea's 23 million citizens may be in danger of starvation or severe malnutrition this year due to poor grain harvests and a collapsing economy. Furtively crossing into China from the North is a crime in both countries, but neither side releases information about how many refugees are caught and forcibly returned. There have been unconfirmed reports that the death penalty has been given to some North Koreans who attempt to leave the country, but "most are sent to prison," says the trader. Some of the refugees who survive the journey to China are given sanctuary by sympathetic families who have transformed their homes into underground shelters, he adds. The trader and a number of other residents who live near the border with the North say Chinese patrols are obligated to seize any refugees, and add that most guards are following that order. "Some Chinese guards who sympathize with the refugees return them under cover of darkness in the hope that they will not be arrested on the other side of the border," says a Dandong-based Chinese businessman who shuttles between the North and China. China is believed to be the largest supplier of food aid to the reclusive, Stalinist North. But Beijing is also North Korea's "only strategic ally, and it does not want to offend Pyongyang by granting asylum to Korean refugees," says a Chinese government worker in Beijing. Stories coming from the North Meanwhile, many of the 2 million ethnic Koreans who live inside the Chinese border are contributing to a food lifeline for relatives in the North. "Every year, my family sends corn and money to an uncle in North Korea," says a young Korean Chinese woman in northeastern Jilin Province. "His letters say his village is facing many hardships, but he never spells out the extent of the food shortage. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.