Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Mehdi Bozorgmehr

Subject Categories



Since the Great Famine in the 1990s, many North Koreans have emigrated in search of better lives in South Korea or other countries. However, they face hardship and peril in every phase of this odyssey. In China, North Korean defectors suffer from the constant threat of being arrested and deported by the Chinese authorities. Furthermore, the Chinese government has refused to grant refugee status to North Korean defectors because of its desire to maintain positive diplomatic relations with North Korea. Consequently, most of the defectors aim to go to South Korea, though some young and educated North Koreans prefer the United States because of the possibility for better educational opportunities. In this thesis, I investigate the various issues and problems faced by North Koreans during their arduous journeys, which are marked by constant legal status changes. They start as defectors (illegal migrants), then become asylum seekers, and finally refugees. Even those who are fortunate enough to become citizens in the new host countries experience substantial difficulties in adjusting to new environments. North Korean refugee issues are important political and social concerns for China, South Korea, and the United States, but they also have implications for the entire world. Although this thesis mainly examines the problems North Koreans confront during their journeys, it also explores some solutions to the various challenges faced during resettlement. China should honor its commitment to the 1951 Refugee Convention by granting refugee status to defectors and not returning them to their homeland. The South Korean government should acknowledge that North Koreans experience difficulties adapting to South Korean society and adjust their policies accordingly. Based on the spirit of NKHRA, the United States should not hesitate to accept the influx of North Korean refugees. Ultimately, this crisis can only be solved through international cooperation.

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