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  • 10 Ways To Escape North Korea

  • 10) Become a soldier Crossing the border between North and South

  • Korea might seem like the most obvious way to escape Asia's premiere dictatorship.

  • After all, South Korea automatically accepts all refugees from the North and makes them

  • full citizens.

  • But if you've seen the buffer between the two countries, you'll know that it's not

  • simply a case of popping over the border and enjoying some k-pop. Separating the two nations

  • is a 250 kilometres long boundary called the DMZ, or Demilitarised Zone.

  • The DMZ is full of landmines, barbed wire, and North Korean soldiers; who patrol the

  • area and shoot any potential escapees. Because nothing shows the world how great your country

  • is like gunning down anyone who tries to leave.

  • So, the South Korean border isn't really an option for most people. However, there

  • have been cases of the very soldiers defending the DMZ going AWOL and fleeing to the South.

  • To date three border guards have done this, most recently in 2015 when a teenaged soldier

  • abandoned his post, walked up to the South Korean fence, and surrendered himself.

  • 9) Take a Boat With North Korea sandwiched between the Yellow

  • Sea and the Sea of Japan, perhaps it's not surprising that some North Koreans just jump

  • in a boat and sail away.

  • The problem with trying to escape on the water is that it means contending with North Korea's

  • ginormous navy. You see, while the Worker's Party of Korea can't find the money to construct

  • roads or power lines, it has pumped millions into building world class ways to murder people

  • at sea.

  • Apart from having 70 submarines, the most in the world, Kim Jong Un's fleet is equipped

  • with 191 patrol ships, specifically designed to blow fleeing vessels out of the water.

  • This constant prowling of heavily-armed ships, added to the rough, unpredictable seas surrounding

  • Korea, mean things tend not to work out for those making a break for the South.

  • However, there are examples of this tactic working. In 2011, 22 defectors made it out

  • of Northern waters, and were picked up by a South Korean naval ship.

  • 8) Fly Air Koryo Believe it or not, Delta is not the worst

  • airline in the world.

  • That dubious honour goes to Air Koryo, North Korea's one and only airline.

  • With the airline's meals being made out of an undisclosedmysterymeat, and

  • the only inflight entertainment being propaganda films, perhaps it's no surprise Air Koryo

  • is the only one-star rated airline in the world. The planes are so run down, the flight's

  • stewards will tell you off if they catch you taking photos. On the other hand, with a service

  • this bad at least there's no risk of a long queue at check-in.

  • Whatever its pros and cons for passengers, flying Air Koryo has one obvious potential

  • benefit for staff: the opportunity to fly out of North Korea. Pilots and stewards are

  • not monitored by guards or forced to return to Korea at the barrel of a gun. Although

  • there are no known cases of it, flight's crew could simply get out of the plane and

  • walk off.

  • The problem with this plan is that Air Koryo only flies to countries that are allies of

  • the regime like China and Russia. That means even if a pilot did escape, the nation he'd

  • flown to would just send him back again.

  • 7) Take your family Living in North Korea isn't great at the

  • best of times. That's unless you're Kim Jong Un and get to spend your time eating,

  • skiing at luxury resorts, eating, smoking designer cigarettes, and eating.

  • But for most people in the Asian nation, life is already pretty tough. So imagine how bad

  • things get in a North Korean prison camp.

  • It's this threat that likely keeps most would-be defectors in line. Under the North

  • Korean system, the entire family of anyone who flees the country will be rounded up and

  • sent to join the 120,000 prisoners already interned in brutal labor camps across the

  • country.

  • Food in these camps is so scarce that prisoners have been reported to eat rats and pick the

  • maggots out of dead bodies just to survive. Torture, including sleep deprivation and beatings

  • with iron rods, is routine at the camps, and internees are expected to work 12 hour days

  • ploughing fields.

  • The horrible reality of these camps means that North Korean defectors are either forced

  • to abandon their loved ones or take the increased risk of trying to leave with their entire

  • families.

  • 6) Cross the Chinese Border With the DMZ being 250-kilometres of barbed

  • wire and bullets, the only other land-based option for fleeing North Korea is over the

  • Chinese border.

  • This relatively safe route is taken by hundreds of defectors every year, and means crossing

  • either the Tuman or the Yalu River.

  • In the summertime, escapees try and wade through the waist-high rivers. But leaving in the

  • winter means doing what the 15-year-old Joseph Kim did in 2006, and tip-toeing carefully

  • over the frozen waters to safety.

  • And the deadly terrain is far from the only danger facing potential defectors. Kim Jong

  • Un has recently reinforced the border, with his troops spending the last couple of years

  • constructing electric fencing along the Tumen River.

  • On top of all that, troops are constantly patrolling the area. Grace Jo, Vice-President

  • of the refugee support group NKinUSA, describes how her father was caught crossing the Chinese

  • border to bring back some rice for her family. He was beaten to within an inch of his life

  • and sent to a work camp, dying on the train there.

  • Despite the overwhelming risks, this route remains the most popular, and the one taken

  • by the vast majority of the 30,000 successful North Korean defectors.

  • 5) Use the underground railroad North Korea doesn't have many allies. It

  • turns out pointing nukes at people is a bad way to make friends.

  • However, one of the few countries that does support Kim Jong Un's regime is China. Their

  • government will deport any and all North Korean defectors it captures, and China's police

  • force even routinely stake out the South Korean embassy to arrest any suspected North Koreans

  • on the way in or out.

  • All of this means that simply crossing the border into China is not enough for the North's

  • runaways. They then have to travel all the way through the country into either Thailand

  • or Mongolia.

  • Thankfully, defectors can expect some help from Asia's underground railroad, a network

  • of activists that finds North Korean escapees and helps funnel them out of China. Over the

  • years, South Korean Pastor Kim Seung-eun, has helped dozens of defectors to escape to

  • Laos. This means a 12-hour nighttime trek through the mountains, carefully avoiding

  • any border security.

  • And as if that wasn't enough, the journey has recently become even harder. In 2013,

  • Loas started proactively hunting for North Korean immigrants and deporting them back

  • to Pyongyang.

  • So to reach safety now, refugees must sneak through Loas' jungles and into Thailand,

  • or trek through the Gobi desert into Mongolia.

  • 4) Become a student If you want a gap year story to top anyone

  • else's, try taking some time out to study abroad in North Korea.

  • Yes as strange as it sounds, even crazy dictatorships like North Korea run a student exchange programme.

  • The scheme hasn't proved popular with Westerners, probably something to do with not wanting

  • to live in a repressive autocracy where everyone thinks you're the devil. But every year

  • about 90 Chinese students for a year at Kim Il-sung University in Pyongyang.

  • More importantly, the student exchange also means that a select few North Koreans are

  • allowed out of the country. Although students are closely monitored by government agents,

  • the relative freedom of being in another country makes escape easier.

  • In February 2017, 18 year old student managed to run away while representing his country

  • at the International Maths Olympiad in Hong Kong. Taking a taxi to the airport, he found

  • a South Korean airline and asked for directions to their consolute.

  • There Yol-ri spent two months holed up while the consolute negotiated with China, eventually

  • securing his safe passage to South Korea.

  • 3) Swim For It We've already looked at the problem with

  • escaping North Korea by boat. Namely that the navy will blow you to pieces the second

  • you drift a little too far.

  • But a number of desperate people have been known to successfully swim across the sea

  • to the South.

  • In 2014, a two men swam two and a half kilometres from the North Korean coast to the South Korean

  • island of Gyodongdo. Travelling in the dead of night to avoid detection, the two swimmers

  • were spotted by local marines at 4AM and pulled out of the water.

  • The advantage of trying to swim across the sea is that it's next to impossible for

  • even the most zealous patrol ship to spot a single swimmer out amongst the waves. But,

  • as with, any attempt to leave North Korea, it's fraught with peril.

  • As mentioned earlier, the waters around Korea are rough. And most North Koreans have been

  • starved to the point where they barely have enough energy to run, let alone force their

  • way through kilometres of turbulent waves.

  • 2) Join a labor camp You know your country is messed up when people

  • are volunteering for Siberian labor camps just to leave it.

  • For decades now, North Korea and Putin have had a deal. Kim Jong Un sends over thousands

  • of citizens to toil in Russian labor camps, where they work on giant construction projects

  • like the new World Cup stadium. No, we're not making that up.

  • In return, Putin pays Pyongyang around $7 million a year. That money is then spent back

  • in North Korea to better the lives of citizens at home... I'm just kidding, the government

  • blows it all on massive missiles and keeping Kim Jong Un drunk.

  • Regardless, these work camps can actually be a great opportunity for fleeing North Koreans.

  • After all, it's a lot easier to escape one work camp than an entire country. According

  • to Choe Myong-bok, who slipped past the guards of his Siberian camp in 1999, as many as 40

  • North Koreans have defected this way.

  • 1) Work your way into the elite Like any corrupt system, life in North Korea

  • is way, way better for the elite.

  • While the masses are driven so hungry many resort to cannibalism, wealthy party members

  • use mobile phones, wear designer clothes, and drink $9 coffees. Yep, even North Korea

  • has hipsters.

  • For this upper class, there may be less need to leave North Korea. But it's also far

  • easier to do so. Apart from just having more money to bribe border guards and buy transportation

  • with, party members often have privileges the average citizen could only dream of.

  • Take the case of Thae Yong Ho, North Korea's highest-ranking defector. The former diplomat

  • spent years stationed in the United Kingdom. And while most citizens posted abroad have

  • to leave their families behind, Thae eventually managed to have his his wife and children

  • with him to London.

  • Once they were safely in Britain, Thae and his family simply turned themselves over to

  • the South Korean authorities.

  • However, even a diplomat as high-ranking as Yong Ho couldn't escape with everyone. Thae's

  • brother and sister remained in North Korea, and have recently been forced to denounce

  • their sibling as 'human scum.'

  • So, that was 10 Ways To Escape North Korea. What heroic dash for freedom was your favourite?

  • Did we leave any great escapes off the list? Let us know in the comments below.

  • And if you want to know more about the world's most repressive state, check out 10 Secrets

  • North Korea Don't Want You To Know.

10 Ways To Escape North Korea

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10 Ways To Escape North Korea

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    Annie Huang posted on 2020/02/12
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