China is considering plans for five refugee camps along its border with North Korea, according to media reports.
Reports in the New York Times, the Guardian and other news outlets say a document shows that China has begun planning how to handle North Korean refugees in the event the situation in North Korea deteriorates.
Three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the province of Jilin have been chosen as camp sites, according to the New York Times. This information is in the document – from China Mobile, the main state-owned telecommunications company which supposedly inspected the five sites to ensure there was adequate internet access.
Possible locations for future refugee camps in China, according to reports
The two cities, Tumen and Hunchun, already have many inhabitants of Korean descent. It’s hard to say how many North Koreans are living in China, as they’re usually there illegally, but estimates vary from 30,000 to 200,000.
All five planned sites are across the Tumen River from North Korea. Most defectors from North Korea already use this route to escape, travelling across North Korea’s northern border, through China and down into Southeast Asia. From there, they typically go to South Korea.
It’s a long, roundabout trip, but because China periodically cracks down on defectors and sends them back to North Korea, many feel unsafe staying there. And although it would be a much shorter journey, almost no one crosses the border between North and South Korea as it’s heavily guarded. One defector got through the border last month but was shot several times in the process.
WATCH: The U.N. Command has released video of a North Korean soldier’s dash across the DMZ in an effort to defect to the South, while under fire by his fellow countrymen. WARNING: Video contains graphic images. Discretion is advised.
There are currently around 31,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea, according to the South Korean government. Most of them came since 2000 – though the flow has slowed slightly since Kim Jong Un took power in 2011.
WATCH: North Korean defector Ellie Cha describes the moment she realized that Vietnamese authorities were sending her family back to China.