Human Traffic Watch

The Underground Railroad from North Korea to Freedom

In Human Trafficking on October 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm

Kim Han-mi watches her mother being dragged by Chinese policemen when her family attempted to enter into the Japanese Consulate in order to seek asylum in Shenyang. (Kyodo/courtesy Reuters)

Chinese government policies receive the lion’s share of Kirkpatrick’s criticism precisely because those policies are what make the North Korean refugee path to freedom on Asia’s underground railroad so dangerous. Kirkpatrick strongly criticizes China’s failure to recognize North Koreans as political refugees as well as China’s complicity in enabling human trafficking of North Korean women, denial of citizenship rights to Chinese-North Korean mixed race children of trafficked unions with Chinese citizens, and Chinese government efforts to round up and return North Koreans to detention, often under life-threatening circumstances for fleeing the DPRK. China’s policies even punish Kirkpatrick’s heroes who have sacrificed their own resources and freedom to lead North Koreans on the underground railroad to freedom.

Despite the efforts of courageous facilitators who comprise Asia’s underground railroad, the road to freedom Kirkpatrick describes remains unnecessarily fraught with risk and tragedy for those who are caught, sold, or repatriated to severe punishments in North Korea. Over 20,000 North Koreans have fled to South Korea in the past decade (2,737 arrived in South Korea in 2011 and 135 have relocated to the United States since 2006), but there is no way of knowing how many North Koreans fled the North but failed to find freedom. Even more serious for the future of the underground railroad is that the number of North Korean refugees during the first six months in 2012 under Kim Jong-un compared to the figure for the same period in 2011 dropped over forty-percent to 751. This conspicuous difference is likely the result of strengthened North Korean border control efforts.

Source: Council on Foreign Relations

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