human trafficking

Forging Ahead: Into the Garbage - North Korean Refugee's Story

First of all, we want to thank each and every one of you who donated to Crossing Borders in 2014. We were able to take in three North Korean refugees because of the generosity of our donors in 2014. We will look to add even more people to our care this year. Here is the story of one person we took in:

Sook-hee lived with her husband and daughter in a North Korean mining town. After her husband died in an accident in North Korea, she had no means of supporting herself and her daughter. She decided to take the dangerous journey to China to find work.

Crossing Borders has never encountered a North Korean refugee who has lived in China for longer than Sook-hee. She has been in China for about 20 years, which means that she was one of the first to flee to China during the Great North Korean Famine.

Sook-hee was sold to her current husband who is severely disabled from a fishing accident. He does not have arms and is blind because of an explosion on his fishing boat. She was told her husband was severely disabled by her traffickers but was offered no alternative.

She and her husband live in Northeast China in utter poverty. They scour their city everyday looking for garbage they could exchange for money. They live on just $50 per month, which is considered extremely poor for her area. Their resources are even more stretched because they have a teenage son.

A few years ago, Sook-hee found out that her daughter in North Korea died. Her daughter was 11-years-old when Sook-hee left. She found out about her daughter’s death when she received a picture of her daughter’s famished body. Sook-hee had been saving money to bring her daughter to China.

When we first told her that we could help her, she was suspicious.

“I can’t join your church because I have no money,” she said. There is an acute distrust of Christians in her city because there have been cults and other churches in the area who have swindled money from the people there.

During our staff’s lunch meeting with her, Sook-hee was very uncomfortable and was not able to eat anything besides vegetables and rice. She repeatedly asked what she needed to do to receive the aid but we assured her that she didn’t need to do anything.

For the first time in her life, Sook-hee was being offered a helping hand. The concept was so foreign to her that she didn’t know what to do.

In addition to her abject poverty, Sook-hee, as a North Korean refugee, is an illegal immigrant of China. When she collects garbage with her husband, she has to watch out for any potential threats to both herself because of her legal status and her husband because he is blind.

We hope that, through our aid, she will be able to feel the love, security and compassion of God.

Thank you to all of you who are involved in her restoration.

Rebounding, Part 2 - North Korean Refugee's Story

The Tumen River runs from Mount Peaktu to the East Sea. It serves as part of the border between North Korea and China. In the winter it freezes solid. In the summer it flows heavy and is hard to cross for North Korean refugees. Both sides of the river are lightly populated for most of the river’s length. The Tumen is mostly surrounded by mountains and trees. On the North Korean side, there are signs with propaganda messages in bright red. There are hidden military bunkers along this side with thin, horizontal windows for soldiers to peak and point their guns out of.

Mrs. Jo crossed the river in the summer. It was pitch dark. Just as she was instructed, she gave the guard the name of the boy’s uncle. And she was able to cross unmolested.

The Tumen River still is a major crossing point for North Korean refugees today. But the North Korean government has made it harder to cross. Border guards are changed regularly and are instructed to shoot to kill anyone who attempts to cross. Seemingly endless barbed wire fences line on both sides. Explosives are hidden under the river’s currents, according to recent reports.

After Mrs. Jo crossed, she was instructed to go to a boy’s uncle’s house nearby. She did. She was given a meal, new clothes and was told to wait in a room with a few other North Korean women.

The women, all younger than Mrs. Jo, were picked one by one by Chinese men and taken away. Mrs. Jo soon realized that they were being sold.

Most North Korean refugees are women and a large number of them, an estimated 80% of the women, are sold to Chinese men as forced brides to supplement China’s gender imbalance.

This imbalance between men and women is one side-effect of China's One-Child Policy. Chinese couples are forced to help keep the country’s population under control. With the introduction of ultrasound technology in the 1980s, it became easy for couples to make a decision on what gender they wanted. Many have chosen to have a boy.

In 2010, The Economist reported a gender ratio of 275 boys for every 100 girls born in some of China’s provinces. This is almost a three-to-one ratio. What has resulted is an almost hopeless gender gap. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences stated that by the year 2020, there will be 30 to 40 million more men than women in China.

The demand for women is high in China and the country’s poorest men have to go to the open market to find a wife.

Mrs. Jo was duped by the little boy in North Korea. She was on the selling block and could do nothing to stop it. This boy was part of a coordinated trafficking ring, which paid for her bowl of noodles, paid off the border guards and captured tens of thousands of North Korean women to sell.

Mrs. Jo watched as the women around her were sold. But because she was older, it took over a month to find her buyer. She was eventually sold to a pig farmer as a slave.

For a year Mrs. Jo carried large buckets of water from a well to give the pigs water. She was beaten when she didn’t understand orders, which was often since she didn’t speak Mandarin. She begged her owners release to release her for months. One day they let her leave, but not on her terms.

Her captors found someone else to purchase her. At this point, her back was so strained from her time on the farm that she was permanently hunched, a condition she is still in today.

The man who purchased Mrs. Jo did not mistreat her. He was an ethnic Korean man and he was older, with grown children. They lived together for about a year in Northeast China. But then he received a South Korean work visa. Within a week he was gone.

The South Korean economy has advanced so much that the country now needs to import a pool of cheap labor. It is estimated that there are about 500,000 Korean-Chinese people who have legal work status in South Korea. This is about 20 percent of China’s ethnic Korean population.

This mass migration has decimated the working-age Korean-Chinese population in China. There are less people to help North Korean refugees. Many Korean-Chinese churches in China are almost empty of working-age congregants.

Mrs. Jo’s husband would send money to his children but not to his purchased wife. She was again in need. He would call infrequently and make promises to her that he hardly ever fulfilled. She took to picking herbs and mushrooms on a mountain nearby to sustain herself. But she still couldn’t make ends meet.

This is when she met another North Korean refugee woman connected to Crossing Borders who said there are Americans who can help her.

Part three of “Rebounding” will be posted in one week.

China Facts: The Result - Effects on North Korean Refugees

What has happened as a result of China’s policies on North Korean refugees has been a human rights disaster. Tens of thousands of North Korean refugee women have been sold to Chinese men.

Approximately 70 to 80 percent of North Korean refugee women are trafficked into forced marriages, sexual exploitation, and abusive labor, according to Mark P. Lagon, Ambassador-at-Large and Director, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, U.S. Dep’t of State.

This has caused a world of suffering for the women who have been sold and the children who have been born into these marriages.


Some women Crossing Borders has assisted have reported brutal treatment in the marriages they were forced into. Many were physically abused. One woman told us that she was locked in a shed and was "shared" by five farmers who couldn't afford to purchase a wife on their own.

Many North Korean refugees have children with their Chinese husbands. It is estimated by some experts that the population of these half North Korean, half Chinese children is about 60,000. Since China actively seeks out these women and many others flee these oppressive marriages, there is a growing population of children who do not have mothers or fathers who are willing to care for them.

Crossing Borders runs group homes to meet the needs of these children. We also provide scholarships for other children who live with family members.


The human cost of the North Korean refugee crisis cannot be measured. Children who have seen their mothers hauled off by Chinese police are haunted by these memories. The women who have been beaten and raped by their "husbands" live with these scars.

Stay tuned for the final installment of China Facts later this week.