Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - China sends hundreds of North Korean refugees back to extreme danger - Open Doors UK & Ireland
20 October 2023

China sends hundreds of North Korean refugees back to extreme danger

China has sent 600 North Korean refugees back to North Korea, where they are likely to face torture, imprisonment and even death. Hundreds more face the same threat. Timothy Cho – a North Korean escapee and Open Doors spokesperson – is urging Parliament to act in response.

North Korea border
China has sent hundreds of North Korean refugees back to North Korea - where they face great danger

China has recently sent 600 North Korean refugees back to North Korea, where they face extreme danger. This ‘repatriation’ goes against the appeals of multiple international rights bodies, and is likely to lead to the refugees facing torture and imprisonment in appalling conditions. Timothy Cho – an escapee from North Korea and an Open Doors spokesperson – believes that China has ‘cynically’ used the world’s focus on Israel and Gaza as an opportunity to make the move without attracting attention. Hundreds more North Koreans are in danger.

“I am familiar with the imprisonment, torture and punishment that follows”

“I have personally experienced repatriation once, and I am familiar with the process of imprisonment, torture and punishment that follows,” Timothy Cho* writes in a letter to MPs, in his role as Co-Secretariat of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, exhorting them to raise the matter in Parliament. “I urge you to encourage the British Government to initiate a dialogue with Chinese authorities to facilitate the deportation of the remaining North Korean refugees to third countries, rather than sending them back to North Korea.

“Even if we can rescue just one person through these diplomatic efforts in collaboration with the South Korean government, it would be a significant achievement.”

Christians among those ‘repatriated’

“Many of these refugees are Christians, women, and children, including recently born babies,” writes Timothy Cho. “The punishment for anyone that has been associated with Christian churches or missionaries while they were in China are likely to be dealt with particularly severely, indeed many are likely to be executed.”

"Many of these refugees are Christians, women, and children, including recently born babies." Timothy Cho

Open Doors ranks North Korea as the place where Christians face the worst persecution for their faith. If discovered by the authorities, believers are either sent to labour camps as political prisoners where the conditions are atrocious, or killed on the spot – and their families will share their fate as well. Christians have absolutely no freedom. Even having spoken with missionaries is a grave danger to those being sent back to North Korea.

Timothy Cho escaped from North Korea in his teens, after being repatriated once –facing imprisonment and brutal interrogation on his return. After a second escape, where he was again arrested in China, he was granted deportation to the Philippines after missionaries advocated for his safe release.

“I was so lucky. If I had been returned to North Korea again, I would not be alive today. That’s a fate I want to spare my brothers and sisters, currently in prison in China.”

Pray for North Korean refugees

This is not the first time that China has repatriated North Koreans who have fled across their northern border, however numbers have been far lower in previous years.

"Many are likely to be executed." Timothy Cho

“It’s too late for those six hundreds who've already been repatriated,” adds Timothy Cho. “What we can do is to urge the Chinese authorities to deport any more escapees to a third country, such as the Philippines. This will ultimately allow them to reach South Korea safely.”

In Scotland, MSP Kate Forbes has tabled a motion for the matter to be debated in Holyrood and Timothy hopes that a Backbench Business Debate can be heard in the Commons. Please pray that this happens and is effective – and pray for all North Korean refugees who’ve been repatriated, and those under threat of it.

*Name changed for security reasons

Please pray
  • For North Korean refugees to be kept from harm, and for Christians who’ve been repatriated to know God’s loving comfort and sovereign protection
  • That the UK Parliament will act wisely and compassionately in response to these actions
  • Join with North Korea’s Christians in praying for religious freedom to come to the nation, and light to overcome the darkness.
World Watch List top 50


You can order your free World Watch List Top 50 booklet to get detailed information about the 50 countries, inspiring testimonies and stories from the persecuted church, and prayers to help you stand with your risk-taking church family.


Order my copy

Share this story

Get involved

Your support helps persecuted Christians continue to courageously follow Jesus.
Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.