Why Can’t You Escape North Korea

Background of North Korea

North Korea is a nation surrounded by the high mountain ranges of China and the ROK, which makes it the most isolated country in the world. It has been under a single-party state government since its foundation in 1948, where there is no freedom of speech or belief due to a complete controlled access to information about the world outside its walls. North Koreans have limited access to the outside world, making it practically impossible to escape.

Arduous Procedure to Escape

In order to escape North Korea, the person must plan and execute long-term strategy at a great cost of life and money. The escape must include different parts of the country and can take several years to complete – getting smuggled out of the country alone takes months. In the process the escapees are vulnerable to traffickers, government spies and sometimes even death. The journey out of the country is accompanied by a risk that they may get caught and suffer repercussions such as long jail sentences, torture or public executions.

Effects of Leaving the Country

It is rarely known that many people who have escaped North Korea often report feelings of guilt and failure for not being able to help their relatives or people back home. The escaping process leaves everybody vulnerable and in immense danger of being hijacked, deported or killed if caught by the government. Not only is the government spying those escaping out of the country, but the Chinese government is also punishing people who are caught crossing into China illegally.

North Korean Defectors

The number of North Korean defectors has increased significantly in the past 10 years. According to a report by defectors from the North Korea Strategy Center, more than 30,000 North Koreans have escaped since the 1990s. However, it is estimated that around 70-90% of those who escape the country return shortly after leaving, either out of fear or due to the lack of resources to survive in South Korea and other countries.

Economic and Political Challenges

The economic situation in North Korea makes it necessary for many citizens to find a way to escape, even though they know that the escape is filled with danger and risks. The US sanctions have only made it worse and have contributed to creating poverty in the country that pushes its citizens out of it. Additionally, the lack of freedom of choice and political repression are the main drivers for people to try and escape the country, and for many, this is the only way to seek a much better life for themselves.

Continuous Monitoring

The North Korean government has a well-known history of monitoring its people and keeping strict surveillance of all activities that go on in the country. This has made it difficult for anyone to escape, as the monitoring has gone to the extreme of having informants that are informed of all movements. The government also has plans to monitor online activities and intercept radio frequencies, all of which make it increasingly hard for anyone to get out.

Military Intervention

The military presence of the North Korean government makes escaping the country all the more difficult. The country has one of the largest standing armies in the world, and they are present everywhere in the country in order to prevent anyone from escaping and to deal with the possibility of any insurgency or internal unrest. The army is heavily armed and trained to use all kinds of weapons, which makes escaping North Korea almost impossible.

Severe Punishments for Escaping

Even though many people have successfully escaped North Korea, the risk of getting caught or even killed is always present. People that have been caught or have attempted to escape face harsh punishments that may include torture, suspension of basic rights and public executions. This has created fear within the citizens and has made it even harder for people to even think about escaping the country.

Increased Surveillance

In response to the increased numbers of citizens that have escaped North Korea, the government has increased the security of their borders and has started to increase their surveillance network, both on the ground and with technology. In recent years, the government has enacted laws that would punish those who are found to be assisting anyone in escaping the country and has made sure to strengthen the entire process in order to properly monitor all people who attempt to escape.

Regional Dynamics

The increasingly hostile regional dynamics between North Korea and its neighboring countries has only made it harder for North Koreans to escape the country. Not only does the government of the North consistently use aggressive rhetoric towards its neighbors, but it also uses its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent. This increases the danger of directly escaping the country, which is why some North Koreans prefer to opt for indirect means such as using third-party countries, even though those too are heavily monitored.

International Sanctions

International sanctions have been used in order to pressure the North Korean government to change its policies, with little success so far. The hard sanctions imposed by the US and UN have only deepened the economic crisis in the country, making it increasingly difficult for the citizens to find ways to sustain themselves. This has driven some people to flee their country in order to look for a better life and financial stability elsewhere.

International Aid

In recent years, the number of international aid organizations helping North Korean defectors has increased significantly. Organizations such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provide assistance to North Korean defectors, and the South Korean government has contributed to the cause with a number of initiatives that help North Koreans resettle in South Korea. These actions have opened up new possibilities for North Koreans to seek asylum, as well as the chance to enter other countries to start anew.

Cultural Shock

Once a North Korean has successfully escaped the country, they may face another set of challenges in the form of cultural shock. Defectors may find themselves in unfamiliar places and cultures, and they could suffer from stress and depression due to the drastic changes in their environment. In order to cope with the changes, it is important for North Korean defectors to receive psychological support and counseling in order to adjust to their new lives.

Lack of Employment Opportunities

Most North Korean defectors struggle to find jobs once they arrive in South Korea due to their lack of knowledge about the country and its culture. This is why some defectors seek other ways to make money, such as working illegally in factories or mines, which can pose a considerable risk. It is important for North Korean defectors to find legal employment opportunities in order to sustain themselves and avoid any form of exploitation.

Supportive Environments

There are a number of organizations and NGOs that offer support to North Korean defectors, providing them with resources and networks that can help them adapt to their new environment. These organizations provide assistance with the resettlement process, and offer support and counseling in order to ensure the safety and well-being of the defectors.

Legal Assistance

The South Korean government has been providing considerable support to North Korean defectors in recent years, including providing legal assistance for those who have been detained in foreign countries due to their attempts to escape North Korea. Additionally, the government has been providing support for those who have been found to be trapped in a foreign country and who are in need of assistance to return home.

Educational Opportunities

The South Korean government has also taken measures to ensure North Korean defectors have access to educational opportunities, by providing them with scholarships and programs to help them learn about their new country and the language. This has enabled many North Koreans to access the necessary resources to pursue their dreams and lead successful lives in their new home.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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