Border Report – January 2006

Winter street in Yanji, China

Women Sold, Babies often Abandoned

The following report is by an LFNKR staff member who visited the border area of North Korea and China in January 2006. The Tumen River running along the border was completely frozen. Standing on the riverside on the China side we could see Namyang, North Hamgyong on the other side, in North Korea. There were lookout posts about every 100 meters. Clearly, the crackdown on North Koreans attempting to escape into China has been stepped up even further.

In the year 2005, about 120 North Koreans carrying pass permits crossed the border bridge into Yanbian, China every day to visit their relatives or to travel. Many of them are seeking food. In the winter of 2005, one church in this area attracted sometimes as many as ten begging North Koreans. Church members here were deeply distressed because their church would be forcibly shut down by the Chinese police if the church were discovered extending protection to the refugees.

In January 2006, a North Korean escapee with two children risked her life to reach one of LFNKR’s shelters. They had been extremely lucky to slip through all the newly installed detection systems around the border area. The system is designed to detect signals from cellular phones, without which it is almost impossible to safely cross the border.

Up-to-date news on the food situation in North Korea

LFNKR still receives stories about starvation like those heard back in 1996 to 1997. In one case, steamed bread was reportedly stuffed with human flesh. In another case, parents exchanged children with another family to eat them. According to the North Korean refugees we interviewed, the rationing has been resumed in North Korea after 7 years, and they told us they began receiving rations on October 10, 2005. What they received that day, however, was only about three ears of corn and some potatoes. Those people who cannot afford to buy food at markets have no choice but to wait for a bit of corn each day.

Trafficked women and abandoned children

It is now widely known that most female North Korean escapees have to depend on trafficking brokers to get into China. Obviously, there is an established system whereby the brokers bribe Chinese police to secure safe passage into China. The majority of the sold North Korean women quickly become pregnant and have babies. Sadly, many of these babies are abandoned. The LFNKR member brought back several reports from one of our shelters. The following two cases are typical. Both of these victims are North Korean mothers who were ensnared by human traffickers. Be sure to read the Interview Relating to this Report.

1. The case of the mother of 5-year-old Chan Wong-hee

The mother of Chan Wong-hee was sold to a farmer in a small Chinese village when she was 14 years old. Her price was 1,500 RMB (about 170 US dollars). When Wang-hee’s father died in a traffic accident in 2005, her mother was resold by the same broker to another man. In November 2005, the mother’s father managed to locate and visit her second owner’s residence, but found that she had already been resold again.

2. The case of the mother of 5-year-old Kim Yong-soon

This woman, carrying a 1-year-old baby girl, was sold for 3,000 RMB (about 340 US dollars) six years ago. The woman then had Kim Yong-soon with the intention of selling her to a Chinese. The woman, however, was caught and repatriated in 2004, but Kim Yong-soon and her elder sister were not repatriated, since their father is a Chinese national. Although the two girls have not been sold, their father gambles and drinks heavily, often failing to return home to care for them. The nights he does come home, he is often violent with the girls.

We should not forget the fact that all children born to female North Korean escapees with Chinese men who have bought them as their wives are illegitimate and outside the law. The Chinese government continues to claim that the North Korean escapees are illegal immigrants, so their marriages are illegal. There is no way to obtain an accurate number of such children, since their births cannot be legally registered. They are not, of course, entitled to go to school. There are now many such children who are deprived of minimum human rights.

The number of such children will continue to swell until the UNHCR grants refugee status to the North Koreans who flee to China. LFNKR’s efforts to help are often frustrated because its foster parent program is unable to accommodate all the abandoned children needing protection.