Korean contract workers are engaged in cutting down trees (Suh, 1995). Thousands of North Korean workers have been working in the Siberian woods since the middle of 1970s. Timber cutting is conducted in cold weather in order to ensure the quality of the timber. Since workers receive few daily necessities, including food, they need to do additional work on farms in the warm weather, to earn extra income. Their work destinations may be located nearby or as far away as Uzbekistan, or they may move from place to place. These workers generally returned to timber cutting in the winter when the economic situation was relatively stable but an increasing number have not returned in recent times.
North Korean migrants who move directly from their home country may enter either China or Russia, but most prefer China. There are two major reasons why they prefer to go to China: geographical and socio-cultural (Ko et al., 2002). North Korea shares about 90% of its inland border with China and the remaining 10% with Russia. Moreover, there are several spots on the North Korea-China border, where the depth of the river is so shallow that people can easily cross by swimming or walking, especially in winter.
The second reason North Korean defectors prefer China over Russia for their destination is the socio-cultural ties. Just over the Tumen river lies the Yanbian district of Jilin Province, where Korean Chinese are concentrated. Once North Koreans cross the border, they can relatively easily find people with whom to communicate. As a result, the chances for North Koreans getting into China are substantially higher than for them to get into other countries.
North Korean defectors tended to stay around Yanbian until 2000 but after this they began to move to other areas as the Chinese police intensified their search for them. The Chinese government informally tolerated North Koreans until 1999, when it launched a ‘Strike Hard’ campaign against them (U.S. Committee for Refugees, 2001). The Chinese police search homes, question workers and hand out penalties for harbouring North Korean defectors and rewards for those who report them. In some cases, the Chinese government even allows North Korean authorities to enter China and seize North Koreans.
Informal interviews with local Korean Chinese conducted by Ko for the study showed that North Korean defectors are seldom found in that area now. Previously, Yanbian residents frequently saw North Koreans begging for food and monies and looking for work but they ‘disappeared recently’. They say that they can tell North Koreans from their appearance.
One interviewee said that recent defectors went only to those who would not report them to the police, not to ordinary local people. Those who are willing to help may be Korean businessmen and members of civil organisations. The prevailing view is that North Korean defectors are now moving further into China, to both cities and