North Korea is the most dangerous place on the planet to be a Christian. Simply owning a Bible or Christian materials will almost certainly mean arrest and imprisonment, and it could also mean your entire close family are arrested and interrogated too. Prison sentences are long, often within prison or labour camps, where people are treated horrifically.
So, it’s understandable that Christians would want to flee. But, it’s not just Christians. Lack of food, extreme poverty or having political views or beliefs contrary to the current government also mean many others try to escape the country too. It’s just that North Korea doesn’t want its citizens to leave. The easiest route is to China, but it’s dangerous, you have a to cross a river that is watched by soldiers, then if you make it across, there are police and secret North Korean agents trying to identify and track down escapees.
Many are forced to return. On Wednesday 14th July, China repatriated 50 North Korean escapees to North Korea. They will be asked if they attended church services or prayed while they were in China. This is the most important question for North Korean police, as they can’t allow any Christians to end up in normal prison cells in case they share the gospel with others. Any suspected Christians go to political prison camps where they will face a re-education programme alongside brutal conditions and forced labour.
Whatever answers they give, these North Koreans will end up in prison camps, where they will likely die either by execution or as a result of the dire conditions and mistreatment.
There are several hundred more North Korean escapees in Shenyang, Tumen and other detention centres in China, who are also expecting to be sent back to North Korea and will face the same fate.
There has been a long campaign from the international community to raise the issue with the Chinese authorities, and to call for North Korean escapees to be deported to South Korea, where they will receive citizenship as part of the ‘One Korea’ policy, rather than back to North Korea, where they will face almost certain death.
In the second quarter of 2020, just 12 North Koreans had reached South Korea. It seemed hard to imagine the numbers getting any lower than that – they were the lowest ever recorded. And yet, they have. Between April and July this year only 2 people managed to get to South Korea from the North.
Part of the reason for these low numbers is likely to be the route these escapees must take, travelling through Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, or Thailand, and during the covid-19 pandemic there have been travel restrictions and lockdowns in many of these nations.
However, the major cause is North Korea’s complete lockdown of its borders in an attempt to keep out covid-19 infections, including shoot-to-kill orders, making it very difficult for people to escape.
Open Doors secret workers are keeping 90,000 North Korean believers alive with vital food and aid through networks in China, as well as providing shelter and training for North Korean refugees in China.
Please continue to pray for North Koreans who are trying to survive the complete lockdown in North Korea, especially for secret believers.
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