The main problem the North Korean people face is hunger and starvation. There are multiple factors that contribute to these food shortages. Since 1994 North Korea has faced a series of natural disasters, as well as "state-run economic mismanagement"33 that have caused severe food shortages. One source reports that nearly three million people died from 1994 to 1999 due to these problems. 34 This plight causes many citizens to flee to surrounding countries, mostly China, where they face severe punishment if caught and returned. 35 The United States is a leading donor of food to North Korea.
The problem the international communities that donate this humanitarian aid face is the question of who actually receives this food. There have been numerous reports that food is distributed in North Korea in a way that "discriminates against some of the most vulnerable groups of society such as the unemployed, the elderly, homeless, children in orphanages and prisoners. "36 Jack Rendler, the vice-chairman of the American division of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea explains that North Korea's government has "stratified society into 51 different loyalty classifications, with foreign food and medical aid going to the most loyal.
'The people who are dying are considered less loyal to the regime'. "37 Due to this disparity in the distribution of food, the uncooperativeness of North Korean officials to tell where the food is going and to allow travel within the country to monitor the relief distribution, many donating sources worldwide have ceased their contributions. Among the reasons for refugees to flee North Korea is the food shortages and also the economic needs. One source even believes that the economic needs are the "primary motivation.
"39 According to CIA estimates, the average North Korean lives on approximately $1,000 a year, while their Douth Korean counterparts have roughly $18,000 annually. 40 Some people may flee to try to meet up with other family members that fled previously. Regardless of the motivation, thousands of the starving North Koreans attempt to flee to China, usually through the 1,300 km-long land borders North Korea shares with China. 41 One source reports that "some two to three million ethnic Koreans known as 'Chosun Jok' are believed to live around the Chinese towns of Tumen, Ji'am, Yanji, Dandong, and others in Jilin and Liaoning provinces.
"42 The vast majority of refugees reportedly cross the Tumen river which is in many places narrow enough to wade or swim across. 43 Other refugees attempt to flee by way of an underground railroad, similar to the ones used in the American Civil War where slaves attempted to escape from the South to freedom in the Northern states. 44 The New York Times reports that to escape famine and a totalitarian government, 200,000 North Koreans, or 1 percent of the population, have fled to Northern China in recent years. 45 Refugees may face difficult situations even after fleeing to China, supposing they escape safely and are not returned.
Some find shelter in villages and farms where China's ethnic Korean community support and help them. But others are forced into stealing and begging and there are reports of others who eat roots and grass for survival. On the issue of human trafficking situations triggered mainly at women, Amnesty reports: Women and girls are particularly vulnerable as a number of reports received by Amnesty International have noted a trend in using women as 'sex slaves' sold by their parents or placing themselves in the hands of professional bride traffickers.
Once married to a Chinese man and registered as a resident of China, a North Korean woman's chances of being apprehended and forcibly returned to her country are believed to decrease considerably. Information received by [AI] also states the growing trend of women forced to turn to prostitution to feed themselves and their hungry families. 47 Amnesty also has received an increasing number of reports where North Korean women are being sold to Chinese bride traffickers who in turn sell these women to ethnic Korean farmers established in China.
These farmers supposedly have difficulty in finding wives because more and more young local women go to the cities to find work. 48 Regardless of the circumstances the refugees come upon when the flee, they always face the grim reality of being pursued and apprehended by Chinese security officials and the North Korean Public Security Services (PSS) who reportedly sometimes pose as Christian missionaries. China has been cracking down on the refugees fleeing to their country. One individual who runs a refugee organization stated that China is "conducting an operation like a war against refugees.
They are cracking down so they won't find any place to hide in China. "50 Some refuge workers claim the crackdown on both sides of the border began around December 5, when two pastors, the Revered Choi Bong Il and the Reverend John Daniel Choi, from North Carolina, were tried on charges of human trafficking. 51 One way that China is attempting to strangle the influx of refugees is by increasing the fine tenfold that is imposed upon people harboring or helping North Koreans. 52 It is significant to note the fact that China is a signatory to the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees.
Under this agreement, China has "an obligation not to return forcibly tot heir country people who may be at risk of persecution. "53 China is not meeting its international obligation to protect these fleeing North Koreans, if the Chinese are in fact forcibly returning refugees to North Korea, since the evidence seems to show that the North Koreans face prison sentences or persecution upon return. South Korea is much harder to escape to directly, but is often the ultimate point where refugees would like to end up.
If you try to escape to South Korea, this is viewed as "a most serious offense of defection from fatherland to enemy as described in Article 47 of the 1987 North Korean Criminal Code. "54 That article states: A citizen of the Republic who defects to a foreign country or to the enemy  in betrayal of the country and the people . . . shall be committed to a reform institution for not less than seven years. In cases where the person commits an extremely grave concern, he or she shall be given the death penalty. 56 Article 117 is also pertinent.
That article provides "[a] person who crosses a frontier of the Republic without permission shall be committed to a reform institution for up to three years. " These two provisions seem to suggest that North Koreans attempting to flee their country face three years up to the death penalty for doing so. However, Lim Young Sun, a former North Korean army officer who fled from North Korea 10 years ago stated that if it is found that the refugees were trying to get to South Korea, "they get anywhere from 10 years to execution after they are sent back to North Korea.
The mastermind of the operation will surely be executed. " The problem of refugees fleeing and being sent back has been an area of concern for many years, and is still important today as shown by a report from MSNBC. In mid-January, 2003, NBC reported that "China captured 78 North Korean refugees as they plotted to board boats bound for Japan and South Korea. Amid major crackdowns by both Beijing and Pyongyang, the unhappy fate of those arrested is clear. "
Many refugees never speak out or tell their story about their experiences in the North Korean prison camps. Many fear being returned. Others fear for the lives of their family who are still in North Korea. Many people who tell their accounts will only do so under a pseudonym and with their identities unknown. North Korea denies that the reports provided by refugees are true. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency told the New York Times that the refugees' statements are "a whopping lie.