Skip to content

Unwelcome Migrants: The Plight of North Korean Refugees in China


Fleeing their home country in search of a better life, North Korean refugees who escape to China face a perilous journey en route to freedom. Despite the international laws that protect their status, China does not recognize North Korean migrants as legal refugees. For a variety of social, economic, and political reasons, China forcibly returns them to North Korea. As a result, most are extremely vulnerable to exploitation, especially given China’s skewed gender ratio. This paper analyzes the challenging situation of North Korean refugees in China and offers recommendations for actions the international community can take.

Dianna Bai is a second-year M.A. student at SAIS, concentrating in China Studies. In 2009, she graduated with a B.A. in International Relations from Stanford University, where she developed a passion for democracy and human rights issues. Previously, she conducted research on the impact of digital technology on the advancement of freedom in China for a Hoover Institution Fellow. Dianna also spent six months as an assistant to Dr. Condoleezza Rice before traveling to China on a Fulbright scholarship to examine Chinese civil society. She then worked on the public affairs team at the National Democratic Institute, where she wrote about democracy promotion efforts in various countries. In the future, she hopes to continue advocating for freedom in China and around the world.