Quite often, North Korean citizens try to defect from the rogue nation, many dying in the process. Hundreds are forcibly returned by Chinese authorities, and then when they are returned to North Korea, they are sent to forced labor camps.
Earlier this year, there was a mass defection, but this time it was a little different. The defectors did not escape from North Korea, but they escaped from their jobs in China. 13 North Koreans defected to South Korea from the restaurant they were working in in Ningbo, China.
The truth of the matter is that there is little to no work in North Korea. And with increasingly harsh sanctions, there is little money coming into the rogue nation, so they send their citizens abroad to work, and their wages are controlled by the state. A very common instance of this are the North Korean restaurants that can be found in a dozen countries across the globe, with 130 locations. These restaurants bring in millions of dollars per year, which helps the regime fund itself, and helps to keep them in power.
This defection of 13 people from Ningbo has been one of the largest defections for North Korea, and certainly the largest during the reign of Kim Jong-un.
This defection is especially bad because it reportedly took 2-3 days to arrange, so that means that China was likely involved, which if true would be a major blow to the regime. In fact, North Korea has raised the potential for relations to deteriorate. This would be a serious problem for Kim Jong-un, being snubbed like that from one of his only allies left.
What stops people from defecting?
North Korea has a policy called the “three generations punishment”. This is that anyone caught trying to defect is sent to a forced labor camp, usually Kaechon Internment Camp, along with their entire family. The next two generations of the family may be born or die there in the camp. So even if you defect, they will likely imprison your family, as a way to keep citizens abroad from defecting.
The camp can be found here, across the river from the Pin on Camp 18, another prison that is for political prisoners.
Also, take a look of a video that shows some of the horrors from the prison camps. A former camp prisoner drew some pictures about life in the prison, and they are truly horrible
What can you do?
Honestly, due to the alienated nature of the country of North Korea, the only way to defeat them is economically. Every cent that they receive will go directly to fund their military exploits, so the only way to win is to make sure that they can’t fund their military. This requires efforts from both nations and citizens.
- Do not engage in any activities that fund the regime.
- Please avoid the North Korean restaurants. While it may be cool to tell your friends that you ate in a North Korean restaurant, you are directly helping a regime to violently repress its people and starve them. Please stop, it is not worth it.
- Again, avoid anything North Korean. This particularly applies to visiting the country. Visiting the country is a two headed serpent. First it exposes the locals to other cultures and shows them how people live outside North Korea. This can help inspire the people to oppose the regime, and can help destroy it from the inside. However, remember that every dollar you spend goes directly to the government and keeps them in power.
- Please, please, please do not attempt to defect. Do not be like Matthew Miller, a 24 year old who tore up his visa because he wanted to stay in North Korea. These people think that they will become celebrities for their acts, and become part of the propaganda machine for North Korea, they find that they are more valuable to the regime as a bargaining chip to get money or concessions from the West. Whatever was accomplished by Mr Miller was undone with whatever was required to be given to secure his freedom.
- Actually follow the sanctions. The UN and the United States have strict sanctions against doing business with North Korea, but time and time again, companies are caught doing business with them. It may be lucrative, but it is wrong. and Governments need to step up and reign companies in from doing anything to make money. A Dutch consultant Paul Tjia feels the opposite, that doing business will strengthen the economy, and will force North Korea to open up. This is a bold strategy, and while it may work, it cannot be done in parallel to sanctions. We need to pick one, and only one: inclusion or isolation.
- Push China to sever its ties with North Korea. In recent years, China has done a lot to sever ties with North Korea, and the world should continue to press them to cut all economic ties, and stop sending defectors back to North Korea.
- The increasing wild card is Russia. Russia shares a border with North Korea, and there is even a train connection. As the rest of the world looks to exclude Russia over its actions in Ukraine and Crimea, Russia will feel less inclined to help the international efforts to cut off the North Korean regime.