The North Korean “Underground Railroad”

Amazing article about the North Korean “Underground Railroad” that facilitates the escape of refugees to China, and then sometimes to South Korea:

What kind of comparisons can be drawn between Asia’s underground railroad and the one in pre-Civil War America?

The way it’s set up is similar. The safe houses and transit routes are kept secret and vary a lot. There is another similarity in that many of the people who operate on the underground railroad are ethnically Korean, just as many of the operators on the original underground railroad were free blacks. Another similarity is that the enslaved person has to make that initial decision to leave. It’s very difficult to get access to a person in North Korea and talk to him about getting out. In many cases the North Korean has to make that decision on his own and make his way to China. That’s changed some in the past couple of years. There are now brokers and missionaries that have contacts that help them reach into North Korea and get people out. And once they get to China another set of operators take over.

Another similarity is that a lot of the operators are Christian. One other comparison — and a very important part of my book — is the effect of this underground railroad. In the U.S. the escaped slaves played a very pivotal role in forming public opinion in the north about slavery. There was sentiment among some people that slavery wasn’t such a bad institution — that African-Americans were well treated. But the stories of the slaves put the lie to that idea. In the north and in Britain it shaped the understanding of what the institution of slavery was really like.”

The analogy is a bit of stretch, but the whole article is fascinating.  Basically, the Chinese government treats North Korean refugees as criminals and forcibly repatriates them if they’re discovered.

So life in South Korea is much preferred, but also not without its difficulties.

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