An infrared photograph shows two naked people crossing the Tumen River in the dark -- one is a human trafficker and the other a North Korean woman.
A 26-year-old North Korean woman, Mun Yun-hee crossed the Duman or Tumen River into China in the dawn of Oct. 22 last year, which at that point was some 40 m wide, guided by a human trafficker.
She was being sold to a single middle-aged Chinese farmer into a kind of indentured servitude-cum-companionship. Both of them wore only panties, having stored their trousers and shoes in bags, because if you are found wearing wet clothes across the river deep at night, it is a dead giveaway that you are a North Korean refugee.
Mun was led to a hideout, and the agent left. Asked why she crossed the river, she replied, "My father starved to death late in the 1990s, and my mother is blind from hunger." Her family owed 300 kg of corns, beans and rice and sold herself for the sake of her blind mother and a younger brother.
The middleman paid her 350 yuan, or W46,000 (US$1=W939), equivalent to half of the grain debt. A Chosun Ilbo news team became the first in the world to see the scale of human trafficking in the China-North Korea border. The exodus in the famines of the latter half of the 1990s has degraded into blatant human trafficking.
In the 10 months since May, 2007, the team witnessed the lives of North Korean refugees in five countries: China, Russia, Japan, the U.S. and Britain. In China, the refugees live day and night in fear of deportation to the North and poverty.
"I was first sold to a 34-year-old Chinese man in Shandong Province. Six months later, public security officers arrested me one day at midnight. Asked how, they said on a notification by a neighbor," Mun said. She was immediately sent to Dandong prison, from where a group of North Korean detainees were deported to Shinuiju chained two and two. There, she was thrown into a North Korean State Safety and Security Agency camp for a month.
"They took a quantity of blood to check possible venereal disease. Undressing the women, they checked even inside the sexual organs with gloved hands,” Mun recalled. If you repeat sit-and-stand 20 times, you vomit up everything you have eaten. Male inmates are forced to strike their heads against the steel door and beaten with clubs when they resist. Pregnant inmates were forced to miscarry on the grounds they were bearing Chinese children.
“The meals of corns with one side dish served were so poor that we longed for the meals we were given by the Chinese prison." Transferred to an escapees camp in Chongjin, North Hamgyeong Province, she was released after a stint of hard labor in 17-hour shifts.
Several months later, now 25, she again entrusted her body to a trafficker. An officer from the Durihana Mission, an organization assisting North Korean refugees, asked her, "We won't sell you to a Chinese. Will you go to South Korea?" Without hesitation, she replied, "I'll go back to the Chinese man who bought me first. I want to live with him, eating plenty and earning money, and send money to my family at home."
For the benefit of her blind old mother and younger brother, she opted to stay in China, risking another deportation. The Durihana Mission officer, failing to persuade her into going to the South, bid her farewell after buying her a few pieces of winter clothes.
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