China may be far freer than North Korea, but it's a perilous way station for North Korean refugees who flee hunger and darkness in their homeland. Branded as illegal immigrants and subject to arrest and deportation, some dwell in hidden work camps or caves. Others scrounge for food in the hinterlands.
Most hope to hook into a fragile underground railroad that will take them to safety in Mongolia or Southeast Asia, further stops before eventual resettlement in South Korea or even America.
But as the refugees dream of leaving China, often with the help of good Samaritans from South Korea, the United States and Japan, they live in dread of capture.
"They have no rights. They are living in daily fear. ... They have no protection under the laws of China," said Sam Kim, the general counsel of the Korean Church Coalition for North Korean Freedom, an advocacy group based in Southern California.
North Korean women and girls are particularly vulnerable. If Chinese farmers catch them, they're often forced into the sex trade or sold as rural brides.