North Korea – the shocking reality for those who dare to escape

Propaganda spread over walls, people who are unable to speak their minds in fear of being reported, and limited exposure to the outside world. I can only be describing the disturbing country of the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea.

I recently read a fascinating book which explored the harsh realities faced by North Koreans on a daily basis, called ‘Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea’, by Barbara Demick. The book itself focused on the lives of several defectors, who were lucky enough to escape the country and were trying to rebuild their lives in South Korea. Although these people spoke about their difficulties in adjusting to life outside their homeland and away from loved ones they had left behind, their circumstances are arguably much better than those who have tried, unsuccessfully, to escape across the North Koreas’ dangerous borders.  Or those who have managed to escape, but are later caught across the border in China or other nearby countries, and sent back to face severe punishment.

This week, I was shocked to hear about nine teenagers who this happened to very recently. These young North Koreans were arrested in Laos on 10 May after illegally crossing the border from China. They were forcibly returned to North Korea we believe, on the 28 May. This really brought the issues highlighted in the book I read, to life, as the youngsters, aged between 14 and 19, are now  at serious risk of being tortured, detained in prison, sent to forced labour camps or even executed. Under International Law, no one should be sent back to a country where they are at risk of human rights violations, such as torture or execution. Those who escape North Korea should be entitled to international protection because of such risks. The South Korean government even appealed to the Chinese and Laos authorities to send them to South Korea instead.

We believe they were taken from Laos’ capital, Vientiane to Kunming in China on 27 May and then flown to Beijing. Reports suggest that the nine youngsters were then taken to Pyongyang in North Korea on 28 May.

North Koreans are prohibited from travelling abroad without state permission and recent crackdowns have made it increasingly difficult to cross the border into China and escape via another country such as Laos or Thailand. China returns all ‘undocumented’ North Koreans if caught. Laos typically detains undocumented North Koreans found in Laos, but used to allow them to travel on to South Korea.

By placing these young teenagers back in the grasps of the North Korean authorities, they are now likely to be sent to one of the infamous gulag style prison camps and detained under atrocious conditions. Amnesty is seriously concerned for their safety.  

Please join us and write to the North Korean authorities, please include the following in your letter: 

  • Call on the North Korean authorities to ensure that no one is detained or prosecuted for leaving North Korea, and that the nine North Koreans named are not subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, subjected to forced labour, enforced disappearance or to the death penalty;
  • Call on North Korean authorities to disclose the whereabouts of these nine persons;
  • Urge the North Korean authorities to abolish the requirement for permission to travel internally and abroad in compliance with international obligations

For full details read the Urgent Action at the bottom of this blog.

Please write before 12 July to Kim Jong-Un, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army, care of: 

Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Office of the United Nations in New York
Mr Sin Son-ho  
Permanent Mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in New York
820 Second Ave, 13th Floor
New York, NY 10017, USA
Fax: +1 212 972 3154
Email: dpr.korea@verizon.net
Salutation: Dear Ambassador

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