In some instances, North Koreans have been detained and sent back home even after leaving China. In 2013, authorities in Laos repatriated nine young defectors, reportedly telling them they were boarding a plane to South Korea that was actually headed back to China en route to Pyongyang. Earlier this year, Thai police arrested an American Christian missionary and charged the man with human trafficking after he helped seven North Koreans enter the country.
'I didn't know why I was taken to a cell when I did nothing wrong. I was scared they would do something to me or send me away.'
North Korean defectors have a high prevalence of anxiety disorders and PTSD, and a survey of 140 female defectors in South Korea found that more than a quarter had been victims of sexual abuse or assault while in North Korea or during their escape; 45 said they had considered or attempted suicide. Some experience lingering health effects from malnutrition, and the Bush Institute report cited instances of North Korean immigrants having difficulty obtaining proper medical care in the US.
'The US government doesn't really recognize high school education from North Korea, and not many people defect with a high school diploma anyway. They have to start from the bottom.'