La Mentira (Lit. title: The Lie / International title: Twisted Lies) is a Mexican telenovela produced by Carlos Sotomayor for Televisa. The telenovela aired on Canal de las Estrellas from July 13, 1998 to November 27, 1998. It is an adaptation of the 1965 telenovela of the same name.
One member of a military division decided in 1995 that if he could flee to South Korea, he would have the opportunity to clear his name of plotting to implicate his superiors in a theft.12 Two men we interviewed had fled directly from different administrative detention camps in 1998 where they had been held because they were related to people considered to be serious criminals.13
On the other hand, getting food was the simple motivation of a young man who left in 1997 after he had overheard people discussing the situation in China.14 A young woman decided to go to China with her uncle in 1998 in order to aid her father, who had fallen into serious debt after taking a loan to buy medicine for her dying mother.15
Often, economic motivations were intertwined with a background of political discrimination. Two different women fled to China to survive the famine, both in 1998, after each of their families had been expelled from Pyongyang for political reasons.16 One young man and his family left in 1999 because he could not enter medical school or a teaching college because of family background. This young man's family had relatives abroad, who they expected to help and who did help expedite their transit to South Korea.17 An older man, who left in 1998, sought economic help from his relatives in China. But his troubles began in 1977, when his family was exiled from Pyongyang and sent to live in an administrative camp for five years because of his father's perceived disloyalty.18
Whatever the initial reasons, most of those we interviewed described the decision as a moment of acute crisis, as they were aware of the tremendous risks to themselves and their families the political act of leaving the country entailed. Despite the many hardships and abuses refugees had suffered, their description of the act of crossing the Tumen River was often the most emotionally fraught point of our interviews. Many found it a terrifying, near-death experience, and to all it represented a decisive moment of separation when they crossed not only a national border, but the border between being a citizen and a criminal, or even a traitor. A man whose family transited to South Korea in a matter of months via a well-worn route prepared by heavy bribes was one of the few to describe the experience calmly. "The river was frozen, so it was easy. Everyone knows you can cross if you pay."19 Those who crossed without assistance, however, found it traumatic. "It was very dangerous...because the water was running high. I thought I was going to die on my way to China."20 "The river was not frozen, even in winter, because of wastewater from a Chinese factory. The water was chest-high. If I crossed the river, I would reach China, so I endured the coldness, even though it was as painful as cutting my flesh with a knife."21
In addition to exacting high rent for rooms, some who shelter North Koreans make direct demands for pay-offs.27 One man related, "Our landlord once threatened our uncle [in South Korea] to give some more money or `I'll report these people,'" and charged them a "departure" fee when they finally moved on.28 A different man escaped in 1998 from a North Korean administrative detention camp and crossed the Tumen River with the help of a woman who placed him in the house of a Chinese official in Yanji. But he left the official's house when the man asked for 100 million South Korean won in payment [U.S.$80,000]. He headed to Musan, and with money his brother sent, he bought a fishing boat and arranged for the sellers to guide him to the high sea. But once afloat, "the people who sold this ship to me tied my hands and threw me into the water, saying that I had to give them more money or they'd let me drown. I promised them more money and we went back to San Dung."29
Sexual Slavery and Trafficking in WomenHumanitarian groups working in China report the impression that there has been a great increase in the numbers of women crossing the border since 1998, most of them looking for opportunities to make money to send back to families in North Korea. In most cases, the "opportunities" involve the sale of sexual services, either through prostitution or arranged marriage, sometimes on the initiative of the woman herself, but often through the agency of a third party who shelters, abducts, or in some other way controls the woman. The rigors of agricultural and village life have become less attractive to women in the border provinces in China as mobility and industrialization have increased, which in turn has spurred the market for rural brides.
A woman who was in her early 20's at the time she went to China in December of 1998 described her ordeal.36 Upon crossing the Tumen and staying for a week at a Korean-Chinese house in Kae San Tun with her uncle, the two of them were abducted by a group of thugs, who separated them and got into a brawl as to whether to trade her. A man connected with this group masqueraded in the clothing of a public security officer and broke up the fight, taking her to his house to spend the night, after which he released her. She eventually found shelter with a church in Yanji that was also hiding some fifty or sixty North Korean children. Church officials told her that they were planning to send the children back to North Korea as Chinese officials were searching for them, and she felt that they wanted her to leave as well.
This North Korean writer aspired to pursue her writing with greater freedom, yet found herself and her family economically and socially marginalized following their expulsion from Pyongyang in mid-1998, during the famine. Although she already had a husband and child in North Korea, she allowed one of her relatives to sell her in marriage to a Chinese farmer for 3,000 renminbi [U.S.$360]. "Actually, I was afraid of Chinese men...but I thought there was no other choice but to marry. I persuaded myself to view it as a kind of `studying abroad.'"37 The marriage proved disastrous; her habit of trying to jot down her daily experiences in Korean infuriated the farmer and his family. The same relative visited her, and tried to arrange her escape from the village, in order to sell her again, but they were reported to the local public security office, arrested, and eventually sent back across the North Korean border. She managed to escape again, this time with her small son, and took shelter in the house of a Korean Chinese Christian. This man advised her to marry his cousin, and she agreed, on the condition that he take no money for arranging the marriage, and that it be understood she was free to leave if she received help from relatives in Japan to migrate onward. This second marriage to an illiterate farmer also was unsuccessful, but she managed to persuade this husband to release her freely. She again sheltered with a neighbor, and accepted a third proposal of marriage from a Korean Chinese, because she was afraid she'd worn out her welcome: "fish in the air smells after three days." This time the "husband" turned out to be extremely violent.
Even women who settle down with Chinese husbands remain vulnerable. One aid worker related how some families had begun registering their North Korean wives on the household registration, with the expectation that they would thus be able to legitimize their China-born children, but these women were also being rounded up for forced return when crackdowns took place.38
These young people are known in Korean as kkot-jebi (child vagrants) and sometimes are described as "orphans," but it is more precise to say they are unaccompanied minors, some of whom have lost one or more parents, or whose parents are incapable of caring for them. Most appear to be boys, aged ten or older.40 In the late 1990's, they were a visible presence in towns such as Tumen in Jilin as beggars in markets, train stations, airports, and sometimes karaoke bars and restaurants that cater to foreigners.41 Typically the most mobile of migrants, the children cross frequently to conduct trade or bring their small earnings across the border to families in North Korea. Some take refuge in shelters established by missionary or humanitarian groups; others sleep on the streets. The street children are often the first to be rounded up in periodic crackdowns in China. For the few lucky enough to make it into third countries, their eventual social integration is made more difficult by their previous life of wandering between the relative freedom of life in China and their families in North Korea, and the `survival skills' they had to learn on the run. Some that arrive in South Korea are found to have serious psychological trauma from being raped, confined, or beaten while in China.42 These children also have been deprived of their right to education, often for years, and if they are lucky enough to land in a third country such as South Korea, they are often placed in classes with younger children.43
Arrest and Forced ReturnThe Chinese government maintains that no North Koreans are refugees, and that its primary obligation lies under a 1986 agreement with North Korea on the repatriation of migrants. Accordingly, China arrests and expels North Koreans without the opportunity to seek asylum.44 China also posts incentives for informing on hidden North Koreans, fines those found to have assisted fugitive North Koreans, and allows North Korean public security agents and border guards to cross the border and participate in the identification and apprehension of North Koreans.
Mr. Cho D, a former high-ranking military official, related the circumstances of his May 1998 arrest. "At the time I was arrested, I was in a small shop, eating. Five guys in civilian clothing attacked me, grabbed me, and threw me to the floor, and tied me with rope all around my body from my chest down. It was terrible." He spent forty days in the Shenyang security office and was then sent to the Dandong border facility, where he escaped by moving a bar in a window and jumping out. When he was interrogated, he learned that the North Korean consulate had sent a document accusing him of being a murderer, which may explain the excessive force he suffered during arrest. He denied this accusation, but the Korean Chinese interpreter at the police station told him that such accusations were the usual way North Korea framed requests to arrest and extradite North Koreans in China.46 2b1af7f3a8