Concentration Camps of North Korea

escape from camp 14 Reminiscent of the time of Stalin’s reign in Russia, North Korea has some of the harshest concentration camps the world has ever seen.

There are estimates of as many as 200,000 political prisoners locked inside walls, which are encircled by electrified fences.  Entire families are imprisoned, and have no hope of ever leaving the facilities.

One of the largest is Hoeryong concentration camp.  It is located in the far northeast corner of North Korea.  Officially known as “detention camp number 22”, it contained an estimated 50,000 prisoners by the 1990’s.

It was established in 1965 by the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, the country’s present leader, Kim Il-sung.  It is not on any map, and the North Korean government denies its existence.

Number 22 is large in geographical area, measuring 87 square miles in area.   It is surrounded by an inner 3300 volt electric fence and an outer barbed wire fence, with traps and hidden nails between the two fences.  There are an estimated 1000 guards, equipped with automatic weapons, hand grenades, and some possess guard dogs.  Administration is estimated to house five to six hundred workers.

The camp is divided into several areas.  One section contains administration offices, a food factory, a garment factory, detention center, guard’s quarters and prisoner family quarters.  Another is a mining section with a coal mine, loading depot, railway station, guard’s quarters and single prisoners quarters.  There are farming sections with prisoner family quarters.  And, finally, there is a secret execution site in Sugol Valley, at the edge of the camp.

The information about this and other camps was reported by the very few who managed to escape.  “60 Minutes” interviewed Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in camp 14, and spent 23 years of his life there.

The population of North Korea is approximately 24 million.  Of those, a number between 150,000 and 200,000 have simply disappeared.  They will never be heard from again, because they will spend the rest of their days in a concentration camp with brutal conditions facing them.

Conditions are so deplorable, that escapees tell of 20 to 25 percent of the camp’s population dying each year.

If a member of a family is arrested, the rest of his or her family will be placed in a camp as well.  The government believes in “guilt by association.”

Few have escaped because the rules require inmates to inform on each other.  Anyone who tries, plans, or has knowledge of an escape is executed, and all prisoners are required to watch.

The only food they receive is a ‘gruel’, made of cornmeal and cabbage.  To ward off starvation, prisoners eat rats and insects.  Because they have no calcium or protein in their diets, prisoners become hunchbacked, and bones break easily.  Some lose fingers and toes in the frigid winter conditions due to frostbite.

The guards are encouraged to be as brutal as possible.  They often torture the prisoners ‘for fun’.

Shin Dong-hyuk’s entire story can be read in Blaine Harden’s book, “Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.”

James Turnage

The Guardian Express


2 Responses to Concentration Camps of North Korea

  1. Joshua Stanton May 27, 2013 at 6:06 am

    Given that you are using an image from my website (see containing my distinctive annotations, would you kindly insert a photo credit and a hyperlink acknowledging the source of that image?


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