June 25, 2024
Exploring the challenges and realities of leaving North Korea, this article details the strict emigration policies, personal accounts of successful escape, a comparison with other countries, historical context, and human rights implications. The article emphasizes the need for policy change and greater freedom for North Koreans, and provides insights and information for those interested in the topic.


North Korea is a country shrouded in mystery and secrecy, known for its repressive regime and the tight restrictions it imposes on its own citizens. Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled their country in search of freedom and a better life, but leaving North Korea is not a simple matter. This article will explore the conditions required to leave North Korea, share personal accounts of successful escapes, compare North Korea’s emigration policies with other countries, provide historical context for these policies, and analyze the international law and human rights implications of these restrictions. The intended audience for this article includes individuals curious about North Korea’s emigration policies, those considering leaving North Korea, and policymakers and activists working to change these policies.

Conditions to Leave North Korea

North Korea’s emigration policies make it difficult for citizens to leave the country. Only a small number of people are granted permission to travel abroad and are required to provide substantial financial collateral as a guarantee of their return. Even those who do manage to obtain permission face numerous obstacles and restrictions. For example, family members may not be allowed to leave together, and once they arrive in their destination country, they may be subject to surveillance and harassment by North Korean authorities.

If you are considering leaving North Korea, it is important to be aware of the risks, as well as the legal, financial, and practical requirements. You will need to obtain a passport and exit permit, and navigate the complex and often corrupt border controls. Once you have left North Korea, you will need to find a new home and often a new identity. It is essential to make contact with people or organizations that can provide support and assistance before and after you leave.

Personal Accounts of Successful Escape

Despite the challenges, many people have successfully escaped North Korea, risking their lives in the process. These individuals have often been motivated by a desire to find freedom or reunite with family members. The stories of these escapees are both heart-wrenching and inspiring, and provide valuable insights into the realities of life in North Korea.

One such individual is Yeonmi Park, who escaped North Korea at the age of 13 with her mother. They walked across the Gobi Desert, enduring cold, hunger, and exhaustion before eventually arriving in South Korea. Yeonmi has since become a human rights activist, advocating for greater freedom for North Koreans and raising awareness about the realities of life under the regime.

Another story of escape is that of Jo Hye Kyung, who left North Korea in 2006. Jo, a mother of two, had been living in China for several years before being caught and sent back to North Korea. She was subjected to gruesome torture and imprisonment in a labor camp before managing to escape with the help of a Christian missionary. Jo now lives in South Korea, where she is a vocal advocate for human rights in North Korea.

Both Yeonmi and Jo’s stories illustrate the incredible courage and resilience of North Koreans who are willing to risk everything to live in freedom. However, their stories also highlight the incredible dangers and challenges that go along with escaping from North Korea.

A Comparison of North Korea’s Emigration Policies with Other Countries

North Korea is not the only country that restricts emigration. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Eritrea also impose tight restrictions on their citizens’ ability to leave the country. In Saudi Arabia, women require permission from a male guardian to travel and may face difficulty obtaining a passport. Eritrea has been described as one of the most closed and repressive societies in the world, with many citizens seeking asylum abroad to escape forced military conscription and human rights abuses.

While there are similarities between North Korea’s emigration policies and those of other countries, the scale and severity of these restrictions are unparalleled in North Korea. The North Korean regime is known for its intense surveillance and harsh punishment of citizens who attempt to escape or express dissent. The government regularly blocks access to information and communication channels, leaving citizens largely isolated from the outside world.

Historical Context of North Korea’s Emigration Policies

North Korea’s emigration policies have been in place since the country’s founding in 1948. The regime’s intense focus on self-reliance and ideological purity has made it wary of foreign influence and wary of losing skilled labor. As a result, emigration has been viewed as a threat to the regime’s stability.

The government’s policies have evolved over time, with emigration being made more difficult and restricted over the years. The famine that struck North Korea in the 1990s led to an increase in defections, as people sought to escape the scarcity and hardship. The regime responded by tightening border controls and imposing even harsher punishments on those caught attempting to leave.

International Law and Human Rights Implications

North Korea’s restrictive emigration policies violate numerous international laws and human rights norms. Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties. The North Korean regime’s treatment of citizens who attempt to leave the country also violates the right to liberty and security of person

Changing North Korea’s emigration policies will require a concerted effort by the international community. Sanctions and pressure campaigns can be effective tools for creating policy change, as evidenced by the recent progress in the US-North Korea negotiations. Raising awareness about the human rights abuses and the plight of North Korean refugees can also put pressure on governments to take action. Activists and policymakers must continue to advocate for greater freedoms and opportunities for North Koreans.


Leaving North Korea is a difficult and often dangerous process that requires courage and determination. The North Korean regime’s strict emigration policies have made it virtually impossible for most citizens to leave the country. However, the personal stories of successful escapes, the comparison with other countries, the historical context, and the human rights implications emphasized in this article demonstrate the need for policy change and greater freedom for North Koreans. It is our hope that this article has provided valuable insights and information on the challenges and realities of emigrating from North Korea.

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