Though the path to entry into South Korea and official refugee status often passes through China, for those who have papers designating them Chinese citizens, the end destination is often blocked.
Kim Seok Cheol, a 52-year-old man who escaped with his family over three decades ago, has been stuck in a country he only intended to stay in temporarily.
“I never felt I truly belonged in China,” Mr. Kim said. “Chinese was still a foreign language to me. And I had to give gifts, like expensive bottles of liquor, to officials who could cause trouble for me by exposing that I was a North Korean.”
Because of Kim's Chinese passport and nationality -- obtained through a bribe his father orchestrated -- the South Korean government does not accept Kim's claims of being a defector.
The status afforded to all North Korean defectors as citizens of the Korean Peninsula, as decreed in the Southern neighbor's constitution, is withheld for those with Chinese papers--even if they're fake.
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