In North Korea, tens of thousands are arbitrarily imprisoned in camps as slave labor. Refugees report torture, rape and public executions. Most of the prisoners die before reaching age 50 from the effects of chronic hunger and overwork. Each year, thousands of North Koreans dare to flee to neighboring China to escape hunger and persecution. However, the People's Republic delivers all apprehended refugees back to North Korea, where torture and death awaits.
Six extremely large main camps have been identified in North Korea, as well as about 200 smaller sub-camps and other detention facilities. The exact number of detainees is unknown, but the estimates of the United Nations and other institutions vary from 60,000-250,000 people, who were for trivial reasons - or by international standards, without reason – enslaved. Some are in prison because their ancestors were from South Korea, others because family members fled to China.
The exact number of North Korean refugees is unknown, with estimates from 40 - 50,000 people. Approximately 80 percent are women. Many of these women are taken by traffickers to be exploited in brothels in slavery-like conditions or sold as wives. Because a large number of girls are aborted before birth, there is a shortage of women in the People’s Republic. The North Korean women do not receive even the slightest support from the authorities of the People's Republic; on the contrary, whoever supports 'illegal' North Koreans can expect to pay very high fines. Those who turnover refugees to state authorities are rewarded. Women who have been forced into marriage or sold to a brothel live in constant fear of being handed over to the Chinese authorities and forcibly returned to North Korea.
Through the mismanagement of the ruling Communist "Workers' Party of Korea", the DPRK lies in ruin. Collectivization, expropriation of farmers, and an agricultural economy have devastated North Korea. The regime is perpetually unable to guarantee the food supply for its population. Several times the population suffered severe famine, including one of the largest famines of the 20th century. Between 1994 and 1998, approximately 2-3 million people have died from the effects of malnutrition. People flee to China to find work and food. Many North Koreans only remain until they have earned enough money to feed the families they left behind. Their despair is so great that they are willing to hazard the life-threatening consequences of exploitation and slave labor - and of death in a North Korean camp, if they are caught.
In past years, significantly more than 1,000 North Koreans fled to China every month. However, this trend is declining. The border is ever more heavily patrolled by the North Korean military, the escape is more difficult and the required bribes higher than ever.
By repatriating North Korean refugees back to their country of origin, China breaks binding international treaty laws. China ratified both agreements the Geneva Convention of 1951 and 1967. Article 33 (1) of the Convention of 1951 - the so-called non-refoulement principle - states: "No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories, would be where his life or freedom would be threatened (...)." The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has also noted: "The prohibition of torture is also part of customary international law, which has attained the rank of a peremptory norm of international law, or jus cogens. It includes, as a fundamental and inherent component, the prohibition of refoulement to a risk of torture, and thus imposes an absolute ban on any form of forcible return to a danger of torture which is binding on all States, including those which have not become party to the relevant instruments”. [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obligations…]
The ISHR seeks to draw attention to the situation of refugees in China. The ISHR works to convince the German government, the European Union, and bodies and decision-makers of the United Nations to use their influence on the Chinese government in order for China to send refugees to South Korea. The ISHR also directly approaches the Chinese government, together with a network of NGOs from South Korea. Several South Korean NGOs are helping North Korean refugees in China, including women, who are imprisoned in brothels. Other NGOs assist North Koreans on their onward flight to South Korea. Meanwhile, about 26,000 North Koreans live in South Korea.
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