A heavily pregnant North Korean woman whose husband was forcibly repatriated from China's border area of Yanbian has told RFA that she expects to give birth to the couple's child any day now alone and unaided, rather than risk punishment if she is sent back.
A heavily pregnant North Korean woman whose husband was forcibly repatriated from China's border area of Yanbian has told RFA's Korean service that she expects to give birth to the couple's child any day now alone and unaided, rather than risk punishment if she is sent back.
Park Eun-ok, 24, whose baby is due Thursday or Friday, said she was freed by Chinese security guards who took pity on her after being arrested with a large group of North Korean defectors, including her husband, in March.
"They arrested many people," Park told RFA reporter Jinseo Lee. "They arrested us on the spot... but I am pregnant. I said if I was sent to North Korea, I would have no parents or siblings, no-one to depend on."
"I told the Chinese police, if they repatriate me to North Korea, I will commit suicide."
Park said she feared severe punishment if she returned to North Korea while still pregnant.
"They treat you roughly," she said. "If the baby is by a Chinese man, they force you to have an abortion. If the father is a Korean and you are married to him, then the individual can make the decision."
She said she had heard no news of her husband since his repatriation by the Chinese authorities. "I don't know what happened to him. Perhaps he's in jail."
"We were arrested because we tried to go to South Korea. These days, they do not execute, there's no shooting, but life is like death there," Park said, adding that the punishment for attempted defectors was far greater than for those North Koreans who had simply crossed the border to China to find food or work.
Chinese hospitals would only help her deliver the baby if she paid medical fees of 2,000-3,000 yuan . "I have 20 yuan ," Park said. "I live day by day. I don't know what I am going to do."
She said Christian missions run by South Koreans had given her enough money to buy food but were under increasing pressure from crackdowns on North Korean refugees.
On June 3, Durihana Mission in South Korea claimed that the Chinese police had sent seven North Korean prisoners from Ansan prison camp in Jirin Tumen, China, back to North Korea on May 13. However, the South Korean government denied such a claim.
According to the Durihana Mission in South Korea, which works on behalf of North Koreans, seven North Korean prisoners who staged a hunger-strike at a Chinese detention center demanding a permit to go to South Korea, were sent back to North Korea around March 20 by Chinese police.
"We already contacted our sources in North Korea in case the North Korean prisoners were repatriated to North Korea by force. And this source told us of the repatriation of seven North Koreans," Durihana preacher Ki-won Chon told RFA's Korean service.
Whether Park's husband was among that group was unclear. South Korea has said it received assurances from Beijing that no such forcible repatriation took place.
North Korea has recently intensified a crackdown on defectors leaving through China, where a few hundred North Koreans have successfully sought political asylum in South Korean diplomatic missions and through other channels. As many as 300,000 North Koreans are believed to live in hiding in China, where they frequently suffer abuse and exploitation by local law enforcement bodies.
Under a U.N. refugee convention, China is obliged not to force defectors back to North Korea, where they face punishment, torture, and humiliation, according to human rights groups. The punishment for defecting is three years in a labor camp and can lead to execution.