Bloodhound Units Seeking North Korean Refugees

North Korean snipers on border with China. They have orders to shoot anyone attempting to enter or leave their country (Copyright Chang Chien-chi).

Recently, Channel4 broadcast Orchestra United, a ‘fly-on-the-wall’ documentary about the Hallé Harmony Orchestra which trained-up 350 teenagers with no previous experience of performing in a classical orchestra.

One member with 18 year old Yu Min, an 18 year old who, with her mother, had sought political asylum from North Korea.

I do not know her background story, but she undoubtedly has fared better than many of her compatriots during their first stage of escape. The Chosun Ilbo carries reports of North Korean Secret Police and local Chinese agencies acting in concert to locate and forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees.

In 2002, the UNHCR estimated that there were 50,000 North Korean refugees in China, plus another couple of hundred thousand migrant workers with sufficient reason to fear the long-reach of Pyongyang; and Beijing had its restricted access for NGOs to the border-area with North Korea since 1999. It also was reported that Beijing was criminalizing the assisting of refugees by Chinese citizens, as well as offering rewards to informers.

At this time, North Korean spooks operating with impunity on the Chinese side are assumed to have kidnapped a Korean American minister, Kim Dong-shik who was assisting refugees and whose case was quietly filed-away by his then President, George W. Bush and then Senator, Barack Obama. (In January 2010, GI Korea at RoK Drop linked to reports that a North Korean infiltrator linked to this was under interrogation by South Korean authorities).

Since then, North Korean spooks have become more certain of their official backing and operated more widely. In a country where defection is a capital offence, sniper-nests are in place across parts of the border with China: shootings of defectors as well as Chinese citizens are a regular occurrence.

Formal diplomatic protests were filed by Beijing in June after the fatal shootings of three Chinese copper smugglers as they approached the waterfront at the North Korean city of Sonuiju. Ethan Epstein wrote about the voyeuristic tourist attractions at the Chinese city of Dandong, on the opposite bank of the Yalu River, where one can watch North Korea whilst sipping espresso in a non-revolving revolving restaurant.

Such a display of public displeasure is highly unusual; and assumed to be a coded rebuke for North Korea’s involvement with the sinking in May of the RoKS Cheonan, a South Korean naval corvette on which 46 sailors died.

Clearly, much has been forgiven, as the current bloodhound hunts are centred place in Yunnan province, along the border with Burma and on a nexus of underground railroads for refugees leading to there and other countries in Indo-China. Their reach extends into Burma as in July it emerged that spooks had broken into the house of Burmese author, Hein Latt and confiscated all remaining copies of his Burmese-language biography of Kim Jong-il.

Once returned to North Korean hands, refugees can expect merciless treatment in contrary to the letter and spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, calling for which (in China, at least) is unhelpful for ordinary Chinese (in the opinion of the JCT Jennings of revolutionary socialism, Andy Newman, at least). The BBC carries an interview with Choi Young-hee, a 70 year old successful refugee whose daughter was captured and has been incarcerated within the North Korean concentration camp system.

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