Serving Persecuted Christians Worldwide - Tightened borders mean almost nobody is escaping North Korea - Open Doors UK & Ireland
04 August 2021

Tightened borders mean almost nobody is escaping North Korea

As North Korea continues to implement severe Covid restrictions, including a total lockdown on all its borders, the number of North Koreans escaping into South Korea fell to just two over the last few months. Please continue to pray for the country, and for God’s provision for its citizens.

alt text (e.g. name of person in image)

Only two North Koreans made it across the border to South Korea in recent months - a 94 per cent drop in numbers from the start of 2021

There has been a quick and significant drop in North Koreans managing to flee the country, according to the Ministry of Unification in South Korea. The number of escapees into South Korea fell from 31, from January-March, to just two, from April-June 2021.  

One reason for this is that Covid restrictions in neighbouring countries have made it harder to access escape routes that lead to South Korea.    

But another reason is North Korea’s own complete lockdown of its borders in an attempt to keep Covid-19 out. The government have also issued ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders for anyone trying to cross the border, making it even more dangerous to attempt to leave.   

“I will continue to ask God to work in this nation and let it be free”Timothy Cho

Timothy Cho is a Christian who did manage to escape North Korea. “I escaped from North Korea 16 years ago – for hope of survival," he says. "Since then, I have become a free person, freely worshiping God, listening to hymns, and praying each day... My fellow brothers and sisters are still escaping from North Korea for the same reasons – survival. It is even harder to escape nowadays, as the Covid-19 border restrictions have prevented people from escaping, and yet still people try, and some succeed. 

“I will continue to ask God to work in this nation and let it be free. And if this hope is realised, we will see a new North Korea where no one has to run away, as did I and other North Korean escapees, from starvation or persecution.” 

What’s it like to be a Christian in North Korea? 

China continues to deport North Korean citizens 

In July, China deported 50 North Korean escapees back to North Korea. Terrible consequences almost certainly await them. As part of the interrogation, they will be asked if they attended church services or prayed while they were in China. North Korean police won’t allow Christians to go to normal prisons; they must be sent to political prison camps. 

No matter what they say in response to interrogation, these North Koreans will likely be sent to prison camps. There are several hundred more North Korean escapees in Shenyang, Tumen and other detention centres in China, who are also expecting to be sent back to North Korea and will face the same fate. Please pray for them, that they will know God’s peace, presence and love. 

There has been a long campaign from the international community to raise the issue with the Chinese authorities. If North Korean escapees could be deported to South Korea, they will receive citizenship as part of the ‘One Korea’ policy – rather than back to North Korea, where they will face almost certain death. 

Please pray
  • For the repatriated escapees, especially those who may have found in Jesus whilst in China, that God will comfort them
  • For God to fill the hearts of the North Korean authorities with compassion and love which will lead them to repentance
  • That God will provide for the needs of North Koreans trying to survive lockdown – especially secret believers.
Among the Ashes

Explore Among the Ashes, a new film and prayer resource for churches from Open Doors. It looks at how the biblical principle of lament can bring us hope and comfort, even in the darkest situations.


Find out more

Share this story

Get involved

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