“Smuggled Refugees”: The Social Construction of North Korean Migration



In this paper, I demonstrate the identity transformation of North Korean women in interaction with state and non-state actors and domestic and regional structures, which I formulate for the purposes of this paper. From a state-centric social constructivist perspective in politics and international relations, I examine how the identities and interests of North Korean women are constituted and reconstituted in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the People's Republic of China and five South-East Asian countries along their migration routes before they reach the Republic of Korea – the so-called “Seoul Train in the Underground Railway”. Back in their country of origin, North Korean women are socially constructed as Confucian communist mothers. In China, the most frequently depicted images of North Korean women are trafficked wives. By paying for smugglers to cross borders to neighbouring South-East Asian countries, North Korean women finally become the agents of their own destiny, refugees in waiting to be transferred to South Korea.