Helping Defectors Escape the North – Interview with a ‘Broker’

A Korean news magazine (Sisa Journal) recently published an interview (in Korean) with a “broker” specializing in helping North Koreans defect to the South. The broker in the interview is identified as the head of a new organization dedicated to helping rescue North Korean defectors and refugees. I’ll put a brief translation of the interview below. The questions are from the reporter for Sisa Journal.

Why have you come out of the shadows to establish this new organization?
Brokers face a lot of difficulties, which in turn hurts North Koreans. Last year alone 10-15 people suffered incidents, including problems with Chinese police that led to their arrest and forced return to North Korea. Once they’re back in the North, we have no way of knowing if they’re dead or alive. If we [brokers] work together, we can hopefully avoid some of these problems.

How many brokers are there in the South?
There are about 200 people working either overtly or covertly helping defectors, but only about 10 are really specialists in the field, helping defectors from the moment they leave the North until they arrive in the South.

I’m curious how many North Koreans you helped defect last year.
Our team helped approximately 1800 people escape North Korea. Of them, we helped about 400 come to the South. There’s no limit to the number of people we can help escape to China – it’s easy to buy-off North Korean police, border guards, even high-level military officers, and get them to directly or indirectly work with us.

How do you work with your contacts inside the North?
We’re organized into cells, both in China and the North, through which we pay our people on a regular schedule. We reach them by using Chinese cell phones, which allows us to contact them directly at any time. We also provide them with an internal security card that helps them avoid North Korea’s surveillance network. We pay all charges for the phones. Using our network of agents, we can contact or bring out even those located well inside the country.

Don’t your agents have their own contacts?
Of course. Our agents form their own networks using relatives or friends to start, but eventually form connections with those working in internal security, the military, etc. by using money to establish relationships. It’s not just high-ranking officials either, you can learn everything you need to know simply by hanging out and drinking at bars in Pyongyang.

What do you do when one of your contacts is in danger?
We have a system in-place to warn us of danger. If one of our contacts is exposed, we spend whatever it takes and do whatever it takes to find out what happened and get them out.

Has the (South’s) national security service ever contacted you for information?
Not yet. But we’d like to help.

This is just a summary of the interview, but I hope you’ve found it interesting. If you’d like to read more, maybe Google Translate can help (though Korean-English machine translations can look pretty rough).

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