08/17/2016, 10.20
NORTH KOREA - CHINA
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Beijing puts a price on the head North Korean refugees

Those who flee the Kim dictatorship must pass through the northern border into China. After a period of relative tolerance, the border authorities are tightening controls and stepping up repatriation. 1000 yuan for reporting on refugees; 2000 for capture; 3000 fine if you help them.

Seoul (AsiaNews) - After a period of relative tolerance, the Chinese government has tightened the "hunt" for North Koreans fleeing the dictatorship in Pyongyang. The border authorities near the Tumen River - the border that divides China and North Korea - have issued a "bounty list" related to refugees: anyone who reports on refugees gets 1000 yuan (about 120 euro); anyone who personally captures a refugee is rewarded with twice that amount. Those who help a refugee and are discovered will have to pay a fine of 3 thousand yuan. The border guards have also been ordered to shoot fugitives on sight.

The North Koreans who choose to flee face a very high risk. Forced to pass first through China, since the border with South is highly militarized, in case of arrest they will be subject to forced repatriation: Beijing has signed an agreement with Pyongyang that defines these refugees "economic migrants" and does not grant them any mitigating policy. So if captured, they will be sent home, where they risk the death penalty or a decade of hard labor for "treason".

With the passing of time and with the deterioration of the internal situation, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has tightened punishments reserved for refugees even more: in 2012, the first year of his "reign" following the death of his father Kim Jong-il, only 1,502 North Koreans fled to the South against an average of 3 thousand registered every year until then. In 2013 the fugitives were in total 1,514. However, these data are partial, since it is impossible to determine how many North Koreans choose to remain without documents, in China.

According to an anonymous source from DailyNK, in the first seven months of 2016 the Northern government has executed at least 60 death sentences in public. Of these, half would have been imposed on citizens who tried to flee.

Since the division of the peninsula the South Korean Catholic Church has worked to help refugees, who are called "Saeteomin" ("settlers of the new earth"). Catholics in the South offer programs for social inclusion, language courses and for "political renovation" for the refugees, who are helped to find jobs and thus battle against the barriers of racism that permeates society towards their "Northern brothers".

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