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Lack of identification papers makes life miserable for many N. Korean defectors in China

"I left my parents and siblings for a better life, but I never imagined that my life would be so difficult, both psychologically and physically," one defector told Daily NK

By Lee Chae Un

January 10, 2024

Forced to live in constant fear due to the lack of identification papers, many North Korean defectors in China are spending the New Year in despair.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, a Daily NK source in China said Monday that North Korean defectors in China “spent a gloomy New Year regretting that they left their parents and siblings to come to China.” He said the defectors “just sigh in frustration because although it is difficult to live in China without ID cards, it is also difficult to go to South Korea.”

The source said many North Korean defectors in China live with extreme stress and depression. This is because the Chinese families they live with rarely let them out of the house, and even when they do, they are always nervous about not having identification papers.

“The Chinese men they live with, or the men’s relatives, keep them under 24-hour surveillance for fear they’ll run away,” the source said. “And if that’s not enough, even when they let them out of the house, [the men and their family members] have neighbors secretly take pictures of them.”

“Some defectors wanted to send some money to their relatives in North Korea on New Year’s Day, but they couldn’t send anything because the Chinese men they live with won’t give them any money lest they use it to go to South Korea,” the source said. “The defectors in China are suffering psychological pain because they can’t do anything on their own.”

“I left my parents and siblings for a better life, but I never imagined that my life would be so difficult, both psychologically and physically,” lamented a defector in China. “I regret more and more that I ever left my hometown where my parents and siblings are.”

The defector said that even if North Koreans want to get together for New Year’s to catch up, they have to be mindful of the Chinese people they live with. And they cannot even sneak out to meet because they have no money.

“All we hear about are defectors getting caught trying to reach South Korea, so we try to hold on a little longer,” the defector said. “But we are so exhausted that it is hard to breathe.”

One defector moved her compatriots by leaving a New Year’s message of comfort in a mobile chat room where North Korean defectors gather in China.

According to the source, defectors exchanged New Year’s greetings in the chat room on Jan. 1.

A defector in her 50s wrote: “All North Korean defectors in China know how hard it is to leave our homeland for a faraway country to live a life of imprisonment without freedom. Although it’s hard, let’s persevere a little longer. If we get through this difficult time together, better days will come. Let’s take care of our health so that none of us will fall ill.

“The message brought great comfort to many people,” the source said. “In China, many defectors continue to live in unimaginably difficult conditions, and I hope that routes to South Korea will open this year so that they can have the opportunity to start a new life.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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