Compared to North Korean prison camps, jails and detention centers in the U.S. look like vacation hotspots. We certainly can’t imagine ever seeing an institution that’s comparable to a Nazi concentration camp. But according to one Holocaust survivor who has witnessed both atrocities, he says they’re alike.
So, what exactly goes on in these camps? North Korean defectors reported that starvation and forced abortions are an ongoing issue. And even more atrocities occur daily in the prisons.
The regime denies that these camps actually exist
Reports from Amnesty International and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea both state nearly half a million people have died in these prison camps, Business Insider explains. And while Kim Jong Un and his regime have denied the existence of these horrifying camps before, new satellite images and accounts from defectors are bringing the atrocities to light.
According to The Washington Post, the satellite images show these prisons having gated high walls, barbed wire fences, and guard towers. And these hidden camps take in citizens — and their families — who challenge the regime’s rule.
Prisoners must perform back-breaking labor
Kim Jong Un claimed these prisons were totally humane, but defectors who escaped the horrors of the camps say otherwise. Jun Heo was just a teenager when he escaped from one of the camps, and he tells Fox News of the atrocities he experienced. Heo says anyone over the age of 17 worked on the farms from 6:30 am until 8:00 pm at the earliest. And after dark, the starving and beaten prisoners cried all through the night.
Coal mining and cement making were other industries the prisoners had to work in. And one report also said nuclear test sites are under construction.
And starvation is a huge issue
Nearly 25% of the prison population dies every year due to the horrible conditions, Business Insider reports. The prisoners eat porridge made of cornmeal and cabbage, but it has little nutritional value. And defector Shin Dong Hyuk told 60 Minutes that it was typical for prisoners to eat rats and insects for survival. This is so common, in fact, that rats are nearly extinct in the camps.
The malnourished prisoners often develop hunchbacks thanks to their poor diet and hard labor, too.
Pregnant women go through brutal treatment
Defectors from North Korean prisons have reported the atrocities committed against pregnant women in the camps. Mirror.co.uk reports one woman who fled North Korea was caught in China, and she was immediately given a pregnancy test upon entering the camp. Many pregnant women must abort — or they have to perform tough manual labor so they miscarry.
Another defector, Ji Hyeon-A, tells Fox News North Korea doesn’t allow for mixed race babies, either. And when the country caught her for the third time when she attempted escape, she was three months pregnant. A local police station forced her to abort without any medication before returning to the camp.
North Koreans are sent to Siberia to work — but some prisoners favor this
It seems North Korea is outsourcing its labor to Siberia so the regime can become even richer, CNN reports. Shane Smith, a reporter for VICE, sought out these labor camps to talk to some of the workers. And according to the North Korean loggers out in the Siberian wilderness, they had 10-year labor requirements and horrible living conditions to deal with. If the prisoners attempted escape, their families were forced into labor as well.
On the other side of the coin, the Carnegie Moscow Center reports some North Koreans relish the opportunity to work abroad, even with the awful conditions. Some workers in Siberia actually returned home with money for their families.
Even if prisoners escape, safety is not guaranteed
Many prisoners attempt to escape from the camps and cross into China — but few ever make it. And even those who do make it over the boarder aren’t in the clear. CNN reports China doesn’t consider escapees from North Korea to be refugees. Instead, they’re labeled as “illegal economic migrants” and are often sent back to North Korea, where they’re placed into the camps or executed.
The ultimate task is to get through China to South Korea, where by law, the country must accept North Korean defectors as citizens, The New York Times reports.
What really happened to American student Otto Warmbier?
This case still puzzles medical examiners, as no one may ever know the truth of what happened to Otto Warmbier. The Guardian reports Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor by the North Korean government after he tried to steal a propaganda poster from a Pyongyang hotel. North Korea released him back to the U.S. shortly after his sentence — but he was in a coma. He then died from a lack of oxygen and blood to the brain.
Warmbier’s family and Trump both accused the regime of torturing the student in a labor camp, though North Korea denied this. And there wasn’t much physical evidence to support torture, either. Whatever really occurred, we may never know.
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