In the spring of 2001, China launched a "strike hard" campaign to crack down on "illegal migrants" along the Sino-Korean border. The new policy has worsened the already-precarious situation of as many as hundreds of thousands of North Koreans who have fled to China from their famine-stricken country. Thousands of refugees have been rounded up and forced to return to North Korea where they face possible persecution including interrogation, "reeducation," imprisonment, and even capital punishment. China has increased the fines and prison terms for Chinese and ethnic Koreans who offer assistance to North Korean refugees in China, and inhabitants of the border region have been mobilized to denounce North Koreans and the people sheltering them. North Korean refugees live in constant fear of being caught and forced to return to the oppressive humanitarian conditions in their country. Chinese authorities continue to refuse permission for aid agencies to reach North Korean refugees in the border areas.
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