600 North Koreans Missing After Mass Deportation from China, Facing Grave Risks

North Korean state media has not addressed the situation but has consistently labelled defectors as “human scum,” and leader Kim Jong Un has intensified border controls in recent years.

A significant number, potentially reaching 600 North Koreans, have allegedly gone missing following their involuntary repatriation from China to North Korea. This marks one of the most substantial mass deportations in years, as reported by the Seoul-based Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG).

The TJWG claims that these individuals, predominantly women (estimated at over 70%), are at risk of imprisonment and mistreatment by North Korean authorities.

The advocacy organization emphasizes the grim prospects faced by these individuals, stigmatized as criminals and betrayers by the North Korean government. They face the potential of undergoing torture, sexual and gender-based violence, confinement in concentration camps, forced abortions, and the looming threat of execution. The TJWG immediately urges the United States and other governments to denounce China’s actions as a clear breach of international norms.

Ethan Hee-Seok Shin, a legal analyst at TJWG, underscores the importance of international pressure on China, asserting that, unlike North Korea, China values its international reputation. He suggests that strong criticism and measures from the U.S. could lead Beijing to reconsider its policy.

The rights group underscores the bleak future awaiting these individuals, labelled as criminals and traitors by the North Korean regime. They are at risk of enduring torture, sexual and gender-based violence, imprisonment in concentration camps, forced abortions, and potentially facing execution.

North Korean state media has not addressed the situation but has consistently labelled defectors as “human scum,” and leader Kim Jong Un has intensified border controls in recent years.

In October, Beijing’s foreign ministry denied the presence of “so-called defectors” in China, asserting that North Koreans had entered illegally for economic reasons. China maintained that it handles the issue by law.

TJWG discloses that a considerable number of those repatriated were arrested in China while trying to flee to South Korea or other nations. China classifies North Korean refugees as “economic migrants” present in the country illegally, refusing to acknowledge them as defectors.
The reopening of North Korea’s borders in August, after three years of pandemic-related isolation, enabled the continuation of the long-standing practice of deporting North Koreans from China.

The TJWG observes the movement of hundreds of North Koreans, escorted in heavily guarded vehicles, from Chinese detention centres to border crossing points with North Korea on October 9. There are serious apprehensions that as many as 1,500 additional North Koreans presently detained in Chinese facilities could be subjected to similar deportations in the upcoming months.