North Koreans in China have long been desperate for international help and protection but have been mostly ignored.
While North Korean defectors flee their country to escape poverty and avoid the oppressive regime, some of the escapees still find themselves in the same, or at times even worse conditions than before.
Promised with food and jobs, North Korean women were lured into escaping to China. While some of them were forced, there were those who volunteered to be sold as brides due to the belief that marrying Chinese men would protect them from arrest and repatriation, according to the Associated Press.
After arriving in China, many women were allegedly beaten or sexually abused before being sold to husbands. Defectors and activists claim that some young women were sent to karaoke bars, brothels, or forced to work on adult video chat sites.
Currently, thousands of these women are still living illegally in China. Since cases of abuse are common, some of the women decided to flee again, leaving behind children as they risk their lives escaping to South Korea.
Such is the case of 35-year-old woman surnamed Kim, who left her then 4-year-old daughter with her Chinese husband ten years ago in Longjing.
“My heart has been torn apart,” she told AP. “I heard from my Chinese husband that my daughter cried herself to sleep and searched for me until she turned 8.”
Her past has largely been kept private in her adopted country, and she has so far remarried and now has two other children.
Kim and other defectors in similar situations are hoping to see the children they have left behind but are afraid of returning to China.
Some are hoping to get back their children by seeking help from the United States and United Nations officials. Four women are planning on a trip in October to meet with officials in New York hoping to gain international support.
The challenge lies in how China will respond to their pleas as the women, being illegal residents, will have a difficult task of getting sympathy and action from the Chinese government. Having marriages that were not legally recognized also does not help.
While there has not been any confirmation nor a denial of assistance to the women coming from China, attempts in bringing it to international attention remains a shot in the dark. For the women on their way to New York next month, they are hardly left with a choice.
Kim, on the other hand, will be skipping the United States trip for fears of the publicity it would bring. She could not afford to be separated with her kids the same way she left her daughter ten years ago as a toddler.
The largest population of North Koreans outside of North Korea is in China, where, as of 2012, there were an estimated 200,000 of them hiding in the country. While the escapees might face death if returned to their homeland, China has continued repatriation of those caught hiding.
North Korean women in China have long been in need of international protection, and many are hoping the mothers’ trip to New York will alleviate many of the concerns.