North Korean couple Kim Kwang-ho and Kim Ok-sil, who were in the news earlier this year for ‘re-defecting’ to North Korea after making it to South Korea, recently attempted another defection from North Korea. They were arrested on July 14th at 14.40 by the Chinese authorities, and have been transferred to a regional guard post in Yanji.
Director of the North Korean Refugee Rights Alliance Kim Yong-hwa was responsible for one leg of their escape attempt from North Korea. He told us, “The couple successfully escaped from North Korea for a second time and reached Wangcheng in China on the evening of June 26th. But they have been captured and are at risk of being repatriated again to North Korea.”
Mr Kim says, “I received an urgent call from them, and safely escorted them from Wangcheng to Yanji, where there was a run-in with the Chinese authorities.”
He explained that due to roadworks, it was more difficult than usual to move from Wangcheng to Yanji. They had to use three cars in the process.
The expenses were steeper than usual for this reason, so the couple were preparing to raise extra funds for their trip to a third country. It was during this time that they were caught by Chinese and North Korean security forces working together.
Mr Kim said, “Kim Kwang-ho and Kim Ok-sil were captured and repatriated when they went to China from South Korea in January, in response to a call that purported to be on behalf of their mother. The caller asked them to come and collect her.”
He continued, “South Korean media reported it as a ‘re-defection’, but it was a case of kidnapping by the North Korean security forces in China.”
On January 24th, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA held a press conference in the Koryo Expats’ Centre to welcome the “re-defected” couple back to North Korea.
The couple are now in the hands of Chinese authorities. Kim Yong-hwa has urged the South Korean foreign ministry to provide support for the couple who are facing repatriation to North Korea.