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Escape From North Korea

North Korea is the world’s most isolated country. The dictatorship of the Kim’s known to be an infamous and cruel regime. The country has conflicts with financially and politically powerful nations such as South Korea, China, Japan and the U.S. North Korea has been isolated since the Korean War in the 50s, and it needs support from many countries to sustain its citizens survival. The stubbornness of the dictator Kim Jung Eun led the famine of the country. It gained an international attention when it declared that they are manufacturing nuclear weapons. The global community was once  threatened by it, but now concern is more on unprivileged North Koreans. The more Kim produce nuclear weapon, the harsher life becomes for North Korean citizens.

The showcase city Pyongyang is filled with propaganda. People are brainwashed how great the Kims are from the birth to death. Everyone in North Korea believe that turn in their neighbors’ wrong doings and disobedient to the government to get more food is acceptable. According to North Korean Defector fled to South Korea Dong Hyuk Shin’s memoir, “Escape from Camp 14,” he turned his own mother and brother for food for himself. Even though his family got killed because he turned them in. He said, he haven’t felt “love” in his life when he was in North Korea.

Some die without even questioning what it would outside of North Korea is like. But some do question and try to run away from the isolated prison. The moment North Koreans doubt, that’s when the life risking journey begins.


The total amount of North Korean defectors around the world is unknown. Because of the international pressure and Chinese government’s surveillance on North Koreans, they are hidden. North Korean’s ultimate final destination is either South Korea or the U.S. The statistics from Ministry of Unification shows the number of north korean defectors has made it to South Korea. I believe the number of defectors has decreased significantly in 2012 due to Kim Jung-il’s death in Dec. 2011 that the security between the board became stronger.

Graph shows the number of North Korean defectors came to South Korea over more than a decade.


Through DMZ

It’s known as the most dangerous route since both North and South Korea guards have their eye on the boarder 24/7. North Koreans has to cross electric fences. Even if they make it after the fence, they have to cross the mine field filled with mines that were implemented during the Korea War. The chances to cross to South without getting harmed is very low. There’s a higher chance to die even make it to the boarder.

Crossing the mine field between the Demilitarized Zone is almost impossible.
Through other country

The most popular and known trail is crossing the Tuman River to China. It cost a lot of money, yet it’s the safest way.  The Tuman River, which divides North Korea and China is pretty narrow. During the winter, ice glaciers form easily and it helps North Korean to escape faster. However, the risk always exists that may cost the defectors’ and furthermore their family’s life. North Korean defector Seongwoo Kang told me during the interview that he escaped through crossing the Tuman River to China. And then he met his broker who guided him to Vietname then Thailand. For Kang, the planned route worked.

The Tuman River, which separates North Korea and China, is the only safest way to escape from the North.


The map shows the path from North Korea to South Korea through China, Vietname and Thailand.


Successful Case:

IF the North Korean they get to live a different life. There are two known paths. North Korean Defector Kang Seung Woo said it’s all case by case. One of the famous path is crossing the Tuman River, the narrow river between North Korea and China, and then drive to Mongol and Thailand. The safest path. Some drive up to Mongolia. But most of the cases, they have to cross the river. According to defectors, the North Koreans trade illegal drugs such as Marijuana and Cocaine with Chinese guards across from the river.

Failure Case:

According to North Korean defectors who has failed escaping North Korea before, the stories are 180 degrees different if one fails. For women who got pregnant. Even though they gain from from North Korea, that doesn’t mean that they gained complete freedom. In China, many women get into forced prostitution and slavery. The human rights issue constantly raises even with the escape.

Security in front of the South Korean and the U.S. embassy in China is very strict.


Some may

North Korean defector who spoke in TED talk HyeonSeo Kim  said, the picture brought international attention that the Chinese government let the mother and daughter fled from China.


I had a privilege to interview a North Korea Refugee Seung Woo Kang on 12 May 2013.  He came to South Korea in 2006 and he attended high school in South Korea in 2008. He’s currently attending one of the most prestigious universities in South Korea. According to Kang, the South Korean government supports North Korean defectors. Not only the government, academic institutions such as Yonsei University has special financial aid package and admissions for North Korean defectors. I asked Kang’s view on South Korean government policy and his future goals.

South Korean Society’s View on North Korean Defector

There’s stereotypes of North Korean defectors in South Korea. Even though they are known to have had a tough life in North Korea, a lot of South Koreans are not ready to accept them. The typical stereotype of North Korean defector is being a spy. The perspective of North Korea changes every time the presidency changes. There are two parties in South Korea. Conservative party believes South and North Korea are different countries, therefore the South should not be obligated to support North. In contrast, liberal party believe South and North still can work it out to be a same country. The policies toward North Korea changes on the hand of the president’s party.


A well-known organization that helps North Korean Defectors is Liberty in North Korea (LiNK). It reaches out to North Korean defectors, and help them to adjust to new environment. Furthermore, it seeks to raise awareness for what’s happening North Korea. Every summer, the organization picks “the Nomads” to spread the words about the stories about North Koreans. They wish to rescue 100 North Korean refugees in 2013.

Link website says their goal

The headquarter of LiNK is based in Los Angeles, Calif. and Seoul, South Korea. The more attention on North Korean’s human rights are needed. Not only non-profit organization, religious groups get involved in rescuing North Koreans. The consistant support and attention for North Koreans are necessary.The world most recognize that’s really going on in North Korea.

North Korean defectors protesting on Chinese government for sending back illegal North Korean immigrants.
North Korean defectors protesting on Chinese government for sending back illegal North Korean immigrants.


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