the countryside. They may go to big cities, such as Shanghai, where they can move around more freely or to distant farms in search of both work and protection. This recent trend suggests that North Korean defectors are no longer concentrated in one or two places and they go to many places to find protection. This is undoubtedly due to the increased tension that has emerged in recent years.
Vulnerability to HIV/AIDS
The vulnerability of North Koreans in China has increased: these ‘defectors’ are regarded as refugees but as ‘economic floaters’ to be sent back to their home country. China is also negative about the international agencies that engage in help and rescue efforts for these defectors. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) recognises North Koreans fleeing the country in recent years as refugees fleeing persecution under the 1951 Convention on Refugees. China acceded to this 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol in 1982 but continues to insist that North Korean ‘defectors’ are economic migrants who have to be deported under the North Korea-China treaty.
Until 1999, China informally tolerated North Koreans but increasing numbers of North Korean asylum seekers during 1999 and 2000 saw China launch its ‘Strike Hard’ campaign. This campaign included searches of Chinese homes, questioning of workers, roadblocks, penalties for harbouring North Koreans and financial rewards for Chinese who reported North Koreans. Since 1999, the UNHCR has been denied permission to travel to border areas and Medicines Sans Frontieres (MSF) was refused permission to aid North Korean refugees. In some cases Chinese authorities even allowed North Korean authorities to enter China and seize North Koreans from Chinese prisons (Iredale and Coghlan, 2004).
North Korean defectors experience great hardship, both in running away from their country and at the destinations (Ko et al., 2002). Whether they are simply border-crossers, economic refugees or political refugees, they have to find food and shelter. They may have to beg on the streets, knock on the doors of local Korean Chinese and sleep in makeshift houses in the mountains. In most cases, they work on farms such as cornfields, rice paddies and orchards. If they are lucky, they may receive help from Korean businessmen or non-government organisations.
In the case of women, marriage can be an instrumental way of making a living and avoiding arrest. Three respondents interviewed in Yanbian in September 2003 said that they heard of North Korean women having been ‘sold’ to local Chinese. Chinese husbands may not treat them as wives but as labourers and sexual partners. North Korean women may be sold and resold until they are handed over to local bars or brothels.
Economic exploitation is serious for North Korean defectors. Their payment is much lower than the average local Chinese worker: North Korean workers are paid only 30