Police say the women will not be released for three to six months because they attempted to travel to South Korea, a source told Daily NK
By Lee Chae Un
February 8, 2024
FILE PHOTO: The national flag of the People's Republic of China. (Daily NK)
Two North Korean defectors who talked to each other about going to South Korea were recently arrested by the Chinese police in Hebei Province, Daily NK has learned.
“Two female defectors living in Hebei Province were arrested by the Chinese police at the end of January after exchanging text messages about going to South Korea,” a source in China told Daily NK on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
According to the source, Chinese law enforcement has been tightening surveillance of North Korean defectors by reading their text messages, bugging their telephone conversations, and even tracking their location. If the defectors show the slightest indication of heading to South Korea, they are immediately arrested, the source said.
The recently arrested North Korean defectors were nabbed three days after they swapped text messages about heading to South Korea.
While the police were making the arrest, they gave the women’s Chinese family members a detailed account of the text messages the women had exchanged, including what the messages said and when they were sent, down to the day, hour, and minute.
“The female defectors had never tried to go to South Korea and had never been stopped by the police, so they assumed that texting each other on WeChat about going to South Korea wouldn’t be a problem. But that’s when the police caught them,” the source explained.
“Defectors here [in China] have the dream of making it to South Korea. But they can be caught on the way or arrested for even texting about going [to South Korea], which is making people more and more anxious. Even so, there are defectors who don’t give up on their dream and set out on the journey to South Korea,” the source said.
Defectors lack legal status and financial independence
The biggest reason North Korean defectors in China want to travel to South Korea is because of their lack of legal status in China. That leaves them with no recourse when they suffer unfair treatment, the source said.
For instance, one of the recently arrested defectors had been working ten hours a day at a sewing factory since last October with the understanding that she would receive RMB 70 (around USD 10) per day. She was raising money to send family members back in North Korea for the Lunar New Year.
But her wages from October to December kept getting delayed, and she has still not received a penny from the factory despite working two weeks in January.
Since the woman lacks legal status in China, she was unable to report her late wages or seek legal help, and the inability to deal with the problem on her own was stressful. For such reasons, she made up her mind to head to South Korea, where her legal status would be guaranteed, the source said.
“This woman is currently in jail along with another female defector who was apprehended along with her. According to their Chinese family members, the police say the women will not be released for three to six months because they attempted to travel to South Korea,” the source said.
“North Korean defectors in China live precarious lives without legal status. They risk their lives to leave North Korea and I wish that they had a safe way to escape from this precarious situation and reach South Korea to lead a life of freedom and safety,” the source said.
Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.