Why Dont People Leave North Korea


For many people around the world, the thought of living in North Korea is an unimaginable one. The nation, led by its founder Kim Jong-Un, is ranked as one of the most oppressive dictatorships in the world and many people are restricted from leaving it. But what stops people leaving North Korea? This article will provide an overview of the reasons why people don’t leave the nation, and go into detail about a few of them.


The North Korean government has strict regulations in place to stop people from leaving the country at any cost. It is difficult for anyone who has lived in North Korea to find an escape route, as the government keeps a close eye on potential leavers. The government monitors all contact made with people outside the country and will do whatever it takes to stop citizens from defecting. Any attempt to flee the nation is labeled as a ‘ betrayal of the motherland’ and can result in jail time or even death.

Relatives’ Safety

Many people have family living in North Korea and they are unable to leave in fear of the retaliation that their families would suffer. People who defect often put the safety of their loved ones at risk, as any attempt to leave can be seen as treasonous. Family members of leavers can be used as a form of leverage by the government, and will be forced to endure prison time or even torture if they don’t conform. This puts immense pressure on potential leavers, and encourages them to stay in the country.

Financial Limitations

Most people don’t have the funds to support themselves during a dangerous escape from North Korea. Most North Korean citizens don’t have access to a bank account, and those that do can’t withdraw their money due to the country’s isolation from the global economy. People may need to pay people smugglers to transport them to another country and without access to funds, this isn’t possible. Furthermore, North Koreans citizen have to endure strenuous and low-paid jobs which can make any kind of escape difficult to fund.


North Korea has a sprawling surveillance system with an underlying disbelief in its citizens. Everyone is watched constantly, and any person spotted leaving the country is highly suspected by the authorities. To leave, a person must first escape from their place of living without raising suspicion from the government. As escape from North Korea is rare, most potential leavers don’t know how to go about doing this, resulting in unsuccessful attempts. Those who have managed to defect have cited their planning and intricate details of their escape as the reason they made it out unscathed.

Education System

The North Korean education system plays an integral part in dissuading people from leaving the island. Schools teach students only about the great achievements of Kim Jong-Un and the government, dwarfing any notion of leaving the country. The government has removed all sources of knowledge of the outside world, with text books and television programs being filtered to include only what the government wants citizens to see. This creates a culture of dependence and ignorance, which indoctrinates its citizens from a young age and deters them from seeking out a life outside North Korea.


The dangers of leaving North Korea are so dire that most potential leavers don’t attempt it at all. With stories of people regularly killed for fleeing and punishments for inadvertently breaking the law, it is no wonder that so few people manage to leave the country. The culture of fear fostered by the Kim Jong-Un regime has filtered through society, leaving those poor citizens who wish to leave with no motivation to do so.

International Pressure

The international community has immense pressure on the government of North Korea to allow citizens to leave the country. While the government has yet to comply, there have been some positive signs recently. China and South Korea have worked with the North Korean government to facilitate the escape of some citizens. In spite of this, more can be done to help those who wish to escape to a better life, and much work still needs to be done.

The Political Landscape

The North Korean government has an iron grip on the people of their nation. The government, led by Kim Jong-Un, has created an environment that is devoid of freedom, and its citizens are constantly being monitored and threatened for attempting to flee. People are indoctrinated from a young age with propaganda, taught to be loyal citizensand largely ignorant of what life is like outside. People are prevented from leaving the country by stringent laws, low wages, and a lack of access to money. The constant fear of what will happen to them or their family if they attempt to escape also keeps people in the country, furthering the oppressive view of the current regime.

Cultural Identity

North Korea is an incredibly isolated nation, and this has caused a unique culture and identity to be formed. People are unfamiliar with life on the outside, as they aren’t exposed to it. This has resulted in many people having a strong sense of national pride and a reluctance to leave the nation. This deep-seated loyalty to North Korea discourages people from leaving, and contributes to the nation’s low rates of immigration.


The numerous restrictions, financial hardships and cultural influences make leaving North Korea an almost impossible feat. Most citizens are unable to even attempt an escape from the nation, as the dangers are too great, and the punishments are severe. This article has explored some of the reasons why people don’t leave North Korea and has provided some insight into the nation.

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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