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From Bad to Worse: 
Chronology of events surrounding North Korean refugees' situation in China

Urgent appeal for the protection of North Korean refugees in China 
    All the events listed in this short chronology refer to incidents where MSF was directly in touch with the actors or was able to collect some evidence to substantiate the event. It therefore does not constitute an exhaustive list of incidents regarding North Korean refugees in China but rather illustrates the worsening of the situation over the past months. 


05/12/2001 Mr. Kim, an underground Ethnic-Korean aid worker who has been assisting North Korean refugees in Yanbian since 1996 was arrested in his home near Helong. He was fined 20,000 Rmb for harboring refugees in his house and for assisting those who seek his help. 

29/12/2001 Reverend Chun Ki Won (SK) of Durihana was arrested on the Sino-Mongolian border while he was assisting a group of 12 North Korean refugees trying to go to Mongolia. Chun was jailed for 7 months, given harsh and humiliating treatment and was expelled after a trial and a 50,000 Rmb fine. He went home on August 5th, 2002. The fate of the group of North Korean refugees he tried to help is unknown.

02/2002 A regular flux of repatriation of 70 to 80 people per week from each border point was ongoing during the month of February 2002. 

14/03/2002 25 North Korean refugees rushed into the Spanish Embassy in Beijing, in a desperate asylum bid to flee persecutions. Following the incident, the Chinese government set barbed wires around the embassies. It also notified Seoul that it would conduct an extensive crackdown on religious and civil organizations active in China, which support North Korean defectors. Reinforced controls were set throughout the Northeastern provinces. Measures included traditional ones (bounties and rewards, house to house check) coupled with a new arsenal aiming specifically at identifying networks which included the use of fixed and flying checkpoints on the main road from the border, video cameras along the border, strengthened hotel control in the region, increased financial rewards for denouncing both refugees and activists, surveillance of phones and especially international communication etc. The Chinese Authorities started targeting networks rather than individual refugees, getting names and identifying activists and links between them. They then pulled the thread, tumbling them down one after the other. 

03/2002 Within days of the Spanish Embassy incidents, 100 North Korean agents were dispatched to collect arrested North Korean refugees. One of our contacts reported that they also proceeded themselves to direct arrests in China and within three days had already caught 45 people. Witnesses also reported loads of people being sent back in open trucks from Tumen every two or three days at the end of March.

25/03/2002 Yo Wun-Ok, 8 months in her pregnancy, was arrested by the Chinese Police at the domestic airport of Kunming, Yunnan Province together with another 5 refugees. They were stopped in their attempt to proceed to South Korea via a third Country, where Yo Wun-Ok was hoping to rejoin her sister who had previously defected to South Korea. She was sent back to Changchun and lost her baby. They were all repatriated. The UNHCR who was approached with the case was useless in assisting her. 

04/2002 It was reported that for the month of April, 900 people were sent back from Longjing and hundreds from Hunchun. The length of time between the moment the refugees have been caught and the moment they are sent back has been dramatically shortened, reducing the chances to strike deals locally and buy one's way out. Three refugees were arrested and sent back. Networks started to refuse newcomers from the North, fearing that they may be infiltrators sent by the state security to tumble the networks. 

04/2002 Three churches, two registered and one house church, were shut down in April following their indictment in assisting North Korean refugees. They were churches located on the Border front, in the city of Kaishantun, Tumen and Hunchun.

15/04/2002 Reverend Choi Bong Il (SK) of Durihana was arrested in Yanji for assisting North Korean refugees. He was kept ex-communicado for months and according to sources, was treated extremely brutally. He has been in jail since then. 

04/26/2002 One children shelter in Xing'An was denounced to the border patrol by a local resident. Three boys and three girls, out of which some who had been in China for over 6 years, were arrested. They were taken right away and were sent back to North Korea the following day. Their care-taker, Mr. Park, an Ethnic Korean Chinese was forced to run away and go into hiding. 

09/05/2002 Reverend Joseph Choi (US) was arrested on charges of harboring North Korean children and alleged sex abuse. He was detained on May 9th, along with 14 of the 38 North Korean children housed by his "Small Angel's House" organization. Reverend Choi is still in jail at this time.

25/05/2002 A group of 6 North Korean defectors was arrested by the Chinese police in Yunnan Province, near the border with Laos and Myanmar. The group included, Lee Song-Yong, a-30-month old boy whose mother is already in South Korea, Mr. Lee Hong-gang, 48 years old North Korean Christian and 3 women with a child. The UNHCR who was approached with the case did not take action. 

28/05/2002 On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 28, 2002, approximately 56 North Korean defectors were handed over to North Korean authorities in the prison compound of the Chinese Border Defense Force in the Chinese border town of Tumen, directly adjacent to the North Korean city of Namyang. Eight North Korean State Security Agency (SSA) officers had traveled from Chongjin, the capital of North Hamkyong Province, to claim custody of the defectors. The majority of defectors were women, however the total also included approximately 15 men and four or five children. During the process, Mr. Sohn In-Kuk, a 41-year-old former major in the North Korean army who had defected to China, was beaten to death by the North Korean agents in the courtyard of the Chinese prison. 

06/2002 A group of 37 North Korean refugees who were waiting in Yantai (??) hoping to leave China by sea was busted. They were all arrested and repatriated. 

07/2002 According to official sources, the number of people repatriated from Tumen border point in July was 1215.

08/2002 A group of 6 North Korean hiding in Yantai who were about to reach a third country was arrested by the Chinese Police and repatriated. Among them, one 40 year-old man was later executed by the North Korea authorities. 

08/2002 With the 50th anniversary of the Yanbian Autonomous District, crackdown on North Korean defectors went on and people suspected of helping defectors have been under surveillance. One aid worker, who had never faced any pressure, was summoned by the police that suspected him to be involved in distributing food and helping North Korea. He admitted that he sometimes had found some defectors coming to his place and had sent them away with little help from time to time. He received a 6,000 CNY penalty for assisting a few defectors. 

31/08/2002 Kim Hee Tae (SK) an activist working for NK refugees was arrested in Changchun (??). He is still in jail at this time and faces a 7 year sentence. He was arrested together with a group of 11 North Korean defectors, 5 women, 5 men and a 15 year old boy by the Chinese authorities near the railway station in Changchun, Jilin Province?. They were on their way to Beijing to submit requests for refugee status. He is charged under the article 318 of the Chinese criminal law which stipulates: "Whoever organizes people to secretly cross the national boundary (border) shall be sentenced to not less than two years and not more than seven years of fixed term imprisonment and a fine; or not less than seven years of fixed term imprisonment or to life imprisonment, and may in addition be sentenced to a fine or confiscation of property"

27/09/2002 70 people were caught in Yanji area on September 27th, right before China's National Day. Another group of 30 was arrested in Chouyangcun out of which some were able to buy their freedom for 3000 Rmb. 

17/10/2002 A night round up of North Koreans took place in Yanbian area. 20 North Korean were arrested in Longjing.

30/10/2002 Hiroshi Kato (Japan) of Life Fund for North Korean Refugees disappeared in Dalian while conducting his bi-monthly visit to China. One week later, thanks to strong media and public pressure in Japan, Mr. Kato was released and expelled. He was charged under the Articles 318 (cf supra) and 290 of the Chinese criminal law which condemns those "Assembling crowds to attack state organs, thus disrupting their operations and causing serious losses." Mr. Kato is banned from entering China for the next 5 years. He had been secretly arrested by the Chinese security services and interrogated for 6 days in a row about the nature of his assistance activities to the North Koreans. During the interrogation, information on local staff members and the locations of shelters where North Korean refugees were hiding was found and confiscated by the Chinese Police. No news of the local contacts and the people he protected were heard since then. 

05/12/2002 Chinese Authorities launched a new "100 day campaign" of cleaning as the end of the year nears. After one month campaigning in the three North Eastern provinces, 3200 North Korean were arrested and repatriated. Authorities are now said to be moving south to continue their cleaning work. 

06/12/2002 The Xinhua News agency reported that 18 people were under trial in China, including 6 foreigners and 12 Chinese. An American, a South Korean missionary and five other people were considered to be charged for smuggling North Koreans into China, court officials said Friday. The trial was to take place at Yanji Intermediate Level People's Court. According to the Chinese Legal Daily, 160 people were involved in this case including the 70 North Koreans who were to be smuggled out. 

10/01/2003 As of mid-January 2003, 600 North Korean refugeeswere held in Longjing and 700 in Tumen, awaiting their forced repatriation. North Korea trucks have been seen waiting on the border to collect repatriated refugees. 

13/01/2003 A group of 7 North Korean people was arrested while coming out of the mountain in Yanbian area. They were trying to reach the Harbor city of Yantai.