Shock Greets Chosun Film on N.Korean Refugees

Viewers in Korea and abroad responded with shock to a documentary on North Korean refugees produced by the Chosun Ilbo and aired on cable TV channels Monday. Internet portal sites including and Naver were inundated with postings saying it had been high time the story was told.

A 26-year-old North Korean woman, Mun Yun-hee crossed the Duman or Tumen River into China in the dawn of Oct. 22 last year, which at that point was some 40 m wide, guided by a human trafficker. She was being sold to a single middle-aged Chinese farmer into a kind of indentured servitude-cum-companionship. Both of them wore only panties, having stored their trousers and shoes in bags, because if you are found wearing wet clothes across the river deep at night, it is a dead giveaway that you are a North Korean refugee.

Mun was led to a hideout, and the agent left. Asked why she crossed the river, she replied, “My father starved to death late in the 1990s, and my mother is blind from hunger.” Her family owed 300 kg of corns, beans and rice and sold herself for the sake of her blind mother and a younger brother. The middleman paid her 350 yuan, or W46,000 (US$1=W939), equivalent to half of the grain debt. [Chosun Ilbo]

One Internet user, a subscriber to, said, "It’s been 10 years since the news about 3 million starved North Korean people spread around the world. The South Korean people, press and broadcasters should be ashamed for having turned a deaf ear to the situation in the North." The user added, "I’d like to praise the Chosun Ilbo and Durihana Mission," a South Korean group supporting North Korean refugees.

Another Web user, who watched the first of the documentary’s four parts on cable channel tvN, said, "Watching the program chilled my heart. The program really made me question myself." As of Tuesday, some 90 people had donated approximately W9 million (US$1=W947) to Durihana Mission as a result of the program.

The body of a North Korean woman who died of exposure while crossing the Duman or Tumen River has been left unattended for more than two months.

Japan’s TBS on Monday broadcast 15-minute segments of "On The Border" in its late afternoon program "Evening 5" and its 11 p.m. news show "News 23.” "Evening 5" featured North Korean women who are victims of human trafficking and "News 23" dealt with the stateless children they gave birth to.

On Monday, the average viewer ratings of these two programs were at 7 percent and 7.6 percent, way above normal for the time. A TBS spokesman said the ratings “were similar to those of soap operas."

Right after "News 23" was aired, the show’s production team was flooded with phone calls from viewers despite the late hour. Viewers found it hard to believe their eyes. Some wondered whether the Chosun Ilbo reporters had been safe during their coverage in dangerous circumstances.

In the U.S., the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars on Monday invited Mark Lagon, a senior advisor to the secretary of state and director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the State Department, to give a special lecture on female North Korean refugees, and showed "On The Border" to the audience.

The 100 or so people in attendance were shocked. Jacqueline Kim, an employee at the U.S. Department of Justice, said, "It was shocking to see the misery North Korean women are facing." A Chinese correspondent in Washington said, "The Chosun Ilbo had the courage to expose the reality facing them." But he added, "The Chinese government is in a bind, because if it sends North Korean refugees back to the North according to the law, they will be punished, and if it grants them refugee status, more North Koreans will rush across the border."