Last Updated: Friday, 20 October 2017, 11:39 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - North Korea

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1997
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - North Korea, 1 January 1997, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
During 1996, more than 50 people fleeing the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) sought asylum in the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea), including a fighter pilot who flew a MiG-19 jet to South Korea in May, and a family of 16 who made a month-long trek through China to Hong Kong in November and December. Several prominent North Koreans also sought asylum in other countries, including a diplomat based in Zambia in February, and a scientist and a writer in China in May. Some 2,000 North Koreans also migrated across North Korea's border with China. Some settled among more than three million Korean-Chinese living in the region. Others were held by the Chinese authorities in special detention centers. They are thought to have left North Korea primarily due to the worsening food crisis there. In the past, China has returned North Korean asylum seekers to the North Korean authorities, who according to press reports punished them severely and executed some.

While the number of North Koreans seeking asylum in South Korea in 1996 was not significantly higher than in recent years, more international attention was focused on them. That was because a food crisis in North Korea and the perception of political instability there following the 1994 death of long-time leader Kim Il Sung raised concern in South Korea that there might be a mass exodus of refugees from North Korea.

Although the South Korean government was historically wary of some asylum seekers from the North, it treated most of them as heroes and offered them extensive assistance. That attitude changed during 1996, however. In December, the South Korean government announced plans to establish a series of refugee camps that could accommodate up to 500 refugees each. China was also said to be considering establishing camps for North Koreans migrating there due to food shortages.

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