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North Koreans Paying Up to $85,000 to Defect the Country

Source: KBS News

Escaping North Korea, or defecting, is highly dangerous and challenging.

It is because in case of failure, not only the defectors but also their families and acquaintances are at risk due to strict control and surveillance under North Korea’s Juche ideology dictatorship.

Defectors have revealed that they pay a significant sum to brokers for a safe escape, and these costs have recently surged.

Source: CNN

According to human rights activists who were engaged in rescuing defectors, the cost of rescuing a single defector was around $1,700 per person until the 2010s. However, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, it rose to $17,000 and recently skyrocketed to $85,000. Usually, defectors escape with the help of brokers, typically ethnic Koreans from China, who bribe North Korean soldiers at the North China border to secretly transport North Koreans to China. The brokers then move the defectors across China to a third country, where they can travel to South Korea.

They are paying these brokers the equivalent of $85,000.

Source: CCTV

The surge in costs is due to a law in China. The Anti-Espionage Law has been in effect since last July.

Previously, if brokers helping defectors were caught, they could be released by paying a bribe, receiving a fine, or serving one to two years in prison. However, as this law views aiding defectors as espionage when the brokers get caught, they could face life imprisonment or even the death penalty.

According to an interview with Pastor Kim Sung Eun, who has been supporting defectors, facial recognition devices are now installed on trains and buses in China. This increases the risk of defection attempts being easily detected. Therefore, the cost of defection includes the value of the broker’s life.

This has led to some defectors in South Korea giving up on the method of paying for a broker to bring their relatives out of North Korea.

Source: VOA

According to human rights organizations, the number of defectors in South Korea exceeded 30,000 in 2016 and has been maintained at around 35,000 since then.

In 2019 alone, 1,047 defectors escaped to South Korea, but the number plummeted to 63 in 2022.

Now, there are even North Koreans pleading to be sold to China. They are asking to be allowed to leave North Korea by marrying a man in a rural area of China.

Pastor Kim Sung Eun lamented, “Because the cost of defection has skyrocketed, we can’t help many people in North Korea. Recently, we brought over three people, but in the past, we could have brought over 30 people with that money.”

Source: Window of North and South

Meanwhile, KBS recently revealed the inside of the North Korean Refugee Protection Center.

This is the first stop for defectors when they arrive in South Korea, and it’s the first time the facility has been made public.

Defectors undergo a physical examination and inspection for prohibited items before admission. If they have brought any unauthorized medication, it is re-prescribed and provided at the infirmary.

Once admitted, they undergo a thorough investigation and then experience the real life of South Korea in their dormitory room, which includes a bathroom, refrigerator, TV, and bed. Facilities for settlement, such as a library and a driving practice machine, are also provided.

So far, the center has investigated about 19,000 defectors, and among them, it has identified 190 people who were not defectors, such as ethnic Koreans and overseas Chinese, and 11 spies.

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