Are Chinese Cram Schools Teaching People How to be North Korean Defectors?

Are Chinese Cram Schools Teaching People How to be North Korean Defectors?
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Two cram schools in China are reportedly teaching people to be North Korean defectors to gain refugee status in Europe.

Cram schools in Wangjing, Beijing, may be teaching Chinese citizens to act like North Korean defectors, Koreans in China told the Chosun Ilbo, one of the major newspapers in South Korea, on Aug. 2.

The two cram schools reportedly train students to answer questions about the current situation in North Korea and help make up stories about their defection to gain European asylum certification. Wangjing is understood to be home to many Koreans and the schools work with agencies in North Korea to make fake North Korean factory identifications.

Most clients of the cram schools are ethnic Koreans in China, while some are Chinese said to be professors who also speak Korean. According to Chosun Ilbo, officials in South Korea say some of the fake defectors seek residence in their country.

The criteria for North Koreans applying for European asylum has become stricter recently. Some real defectors were turned down by European governments after failing to provide identification, while fake defectors gained refugee status. Human rights activists have called for greater protection for real refugees and more vigilance of people trying to fraudulently gain refugee status.

Chinese netizens have commented on a Chosun post on Weibo. Some say the service providers are “creative,” while many others think the fake applicants should all be deported to North Korea.

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Photo Credit: AP/達志影像
North Korean human rights activist Yeonmi Park cries during her talk at the Women in the World Summit, with BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet, right, at Cadogan Hall in London, Friday Oct. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

One netizen was unsurprised, saying “When I was in the U.K. in 2007, some Chinese political refugees told me it was quite easy for Chinese people to disguise themselves as North Korean defectors by learning to speak a little Korean.”

Lyu Chao (呂超), a researcher at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences says he doubts the cram schools actually exist. He says deceiving European officials is not easy, since the appearance and accents of North Koreans are hard to imitate. He points out that the punishment for faking identifications in North Korea could be death, and therefore producing large numbers of fake documents is extremely dangerous.

Lyu says the Chosun Ilbo is known for producing "clickbait," and therefore the report may have been released just to attract viewers.

Ms Lee (李), a Global Times journalist who has North Korean ancestry and says she has lived in Wangjing for more than five years, says she never heard of such cram schools.

Information about these cram schools was not available on social media.

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole