Escaping North Korea
Every year, thousands of North Koreans risk their lives in hopes of a better future, but freedom isn't always guaranteed once they cross the border. Go inside a refugee's journey.
Mining village in North Korea
This is a small mining village in North Korea along the Tumen River. In North Korea, government mismanagement of food has left 33 percent of the population undernourished, and freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, physical movement and religion are prohibited. In search for food, work and freedom, up to 300,000 North Koreans have fled to neighboring China.
North Korea Work Camp
Camp No. 22, one of the largest prison camps in North Korea, is located in the northeast and holds more than 50,000 prisoners. Up to 200,000 are unjustly imprisoned in these Soviet-style gulags, where prisoners are subjected to extreme abuse, torture, rape, forced abortions and even executions. More than 400,000 have died in these political prison camps.
Tumen River
The Tumen River separates North Korea from China. This is where most North Koreans cross to escape.
North Korea border
To the right of the Tumen River is North Korea. To the left is the city of Tumen in China. The bridges are used for Chinese officials to cross into North Korea.
North Korea shelters
Once across the border in China, North Korean refugees hide in shelters until they can be rescued. Similar to the Underground Railroad of 19th-century America that saved more than 30,000 slaves, the modern-day underground railroad comprises a network of safe houses and escape routes from North Korea to China, Mongolia, Russia and Southeast Asia.
North Korean shelters
Refugees must remain in hiding from Chinese authorities, who will send them back to punishment or execution. Those who can flee to Southeast Asia, where they seek out friendlier countries that will grant them asylum or allow for their safe resettlement.
North Korean shelters
Refugees must traverse over mountains, deserts and other unfriendly terrains, and families are frequently separated during the journey in the underground. No outcome is ever certain.
A brothel in northeast China. Up to 80% of North Korean women hiding in China are trafficked and sold as brides or sex slaves.

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