Wednesday, March 10, 2010

North Korean loggers seek asylum at ROK consulate in Vladivostok

Two middle-aged North Korean men have made it to South Korea's consulate in Vladivostok, the principal city on Russia's Pacific coast (a place I have always likened to San Francisco in its historical development, though I could be way off).

From AP:
Two North Koreans who fled poor conditions at a Russian logging camp and later worked odd jobs sought asylum Tuesday at the South Korean consulate in an eastern Russian city, according to a human rights activist and news reports.

The former lumberjacks climbed over the fence of the South Korean mission in the city of Vladivostok, said Rev. Peter Chung, head of the Seoul-based human rights group Justice for North Korea.

Chung said that the two would demand to be sent to the United States, saying he knew about their plans through a member of his group in Russia.

The North Koreans, both 46, escaped logging camps in the Russian Far East, fleeing poor working conditions, and toiled as day laborers by moving around Siberia, Chung said. They later became Christians, he added.
[UPDATE: Yonhap now has a lengthier story.]

We know of thousands of DPRK nationals who are laying low in China while hoping to somehow make it to a third country (and eventually South Korea or, increasingly, somewhere else), but Russia is also next to North Korea, but it gets a lot less play. 

There are probably a number of reasons for this (and I admit I'm speculating here): a North Korean can blend in with Korean-speaking Chinese nationals in China more readily than in Russia; there are sizable cities along the DPRK-PRC border whereas there's very little settlement close to the DPRK-Russia border; the DPRK-Russia border is very short compared to the DPRK-PRC border, which means far fewer places to cross; and the DPRK-Russia border is close to the mouth of the Tuman/Tumen River, meaning it's harder to ford. 

I don't know how hard it is to sneak out of China and into Russia (or Mongolia) without proper papers, so I don't know how feasible it is for North Koreans who have snuck into China to make their way to China's neighbors. But it seems to me that if they can, it would be a lot easier to defect, since Russian authorities (as far as I'm aware) are not trying to round them up and send them back to North Korea. Are they? I admit I don't know as much about this as I should.

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