The community of North Korean elites and defectors in Eastern European Countries

Nicolas Levi


Koreans have existed as a single united ethnic group for more than 2000 years. Following the terrible division of Korea (after the end of the Korean War, 1950–1953), some North Koreans have managed to flee for the following reasons: political, religious and economic. Why? This is due to the fact that both Koreas emerged through different ideological and economical models. Regarding South Korea, this country has evolved into a capitalist industrial society being open to foreign countries. On the contrary, North Korea has remained a very closed society centered completely on the leader of this country: Kim Il Sung (and then his son: Kim Jong Il). North Korean people cannot leave their country without any permits. If they are caught abroad without this permission, they are then treated as “traitors” and are very often incarcerated in re-education camps. An increasing number of North Korean defectors4 and their difficulties to settle in South Korea has created a new flow of migration for North Koreans. An augmenting number of these people are moving to other countries and other parts of the world. A relatively small number of North Koreans in China have managed to reach South Korea, Japan, or the United States via other countries in the region, including Mongolia and Thailand. Why a relatively small number? Because it’s estimated that 200 thousand of North Koreans are still illegally living in China, trying to reach their final (South Korea or another country) destination. South Korea accepts all North Koreans as citizens under its constitution. As of 2012, South Korea has admitted more than 22,000 North Koreans, Japan has accepted more than 100, and the US have accepted a few dozen so far. Canada, Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and a few other European countries have granted refugee status to several hundreds of North Koreans in recent years. Concerning EEC, some are living in Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic.