The Plight of North Korean Migrants in China: A Current Assessment

2200 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515 | Monday, April 19, 2004 - 2:00pm to 3:30pm
Transcript (PDF) (Text)

An estimated 300,000 North Korean migrants now live in northeast China on the Chinese side of the Sino-DPRK border, and their numbers are growing.  Although many have fled the DPRK government's political persecution and severe food shortages, Chinese authorities have declined to grant these North Koreans status as refugees.  The Chinese government fears that doing so would encourage a greater flood of migrants across the border.  Instead, Beijing calls them "economic migrants," and does not permit them to seek the help of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. 

Many North Koreans in northeast China face discrimination and exploitation, but their principal fear is the Chinese government invoking a longstanding treaty with North Korea and repatriating them to the DPRK, where they would face near certain punishment.  Despite the distress of the migrants, the Chinese government has been unwilling to allow international aid groups into the border area to provide aid.  In addition, Chinese authorities detained Choi Yong-hun and Park Yong-ho, both South Korean aid workers, for their work with North Korean migrants.  Seok Jae-hyun, a South Korean photojournalist who documented the situation of the migrants, was arrested in 2003, convicted of "human trafficking," and released in March 2004.

In Washington, the U.S. Congress is now considering H.R. 4011, the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which seeks to promote human rights and freedom in the DPRK. 

This CECC roundtable examined the current situation of North Koreans in China and looked at the near term prospects for any positive change in conditions for the migrants.


Mr. Joel Charny, Vice President for Policy, Refugees International

Dr. Suzanne Scholte, President, Defense Forum Foundation; U.S. partner, Citizens Alliance for North Korean Rights

Mr. Kim Sang Hun, activist on behalf of North Korean refugees