Doors slam on North Korean refugees
By Jung Min Noh
Chinese authorities in an area bordering northeastern North Korea have installed miles of barbed-wire fencing along a stretch of river dividing the two countries, sharply reducing the number of people escaping the isolated Stalinist state into China, an RFA source says.
Work on the fences began about two or three years ago and has now blocked access to China along the Tumen River from its western end to the east, Jiro Ishimaru of Japan-based AsiaPress told RFA's Korean Service last week.
"The installation progressed from upstream to downstream, and
by last year we had confirmed that the fences had reached halfway down the Tumen," Ishimaru said, citing information provided by North Korean informants working in the area.
"Now, even the downstream areas are completely closed," he said.
Whether the fencing will now extend to the Yalu River, which forms the western portion of the border of North Korea and China, is not yet clear.
The newly built wire entanglements along the Tumen show that China's government is determined to maintain "order in the border areas," Ishimaru said, pointing to official concerns over drug smuggling, human trafficking, and possible "accidents and incidents" involving North Korean soldiers.
The fences have also strongly discouraged would-be defectors from crossing into China in areas where they were built, Ishimaru said.
"Even though some people want to escape from North Korea, they now feel they have no way to cross," he said.
"The number of people escaping from North Korea has dramatically decreased," Ishimaru said, adding that it is now difficult to find escaped North Koreans living in Yanbian, a Korean autonomous prefecture in China's Jilin province, which borders the river.
Many still in hiding
South Korea's Database Center for North Korean Human Rights in published estimates last year said that as many as 200,000 North Koreans refugees are hiding in China after fleeing persecution and starvation in their homeland, and that many lack legal status and access to basic social services and are susceptible to human trafficking.
"The Chinese government cannot prevent all escapes, but Beijing is trying," Ishimaru said.
And as the fences go up, China has taken other steps to bolster security in areas bordering North Korea, he said.
"China's military often patrols these areas, access by foreigners is strictly controlled, and cars are stopped and searched along the roads, especially those connecting the cities of Yanji and Tumen," he said.
As the obstacles to escape from North Korea continue to increase, people will have to "put extra effort and pay more money" into crossing the river into China, Ishimaru said.
Reported by Jung Min Noh for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Hyosun Kim. Written in English by Richard Finney.