Sunday, November 27, 2011

Seoul showing some backbone with Beijing on repatriation of North Korean refugees?

It is appalling that Beijing continues to round up North Korean refugees inside China and return them to North Korea, knowing full well they will almost certainly be imprisoned, likely tortured, and possibly even executed. As much as we can criticize China for its own abysmal human rights record, even the PRC authorities (in most cases) wouldn't be as harsh as the DPRK is to its own citizens. And it's no surprise that Chinese netizens are  generally blissfully unaware of their own government's complicity.

So it's refreshing to read news like this that keeps the story on the front burner and makes it harder for Xinhua and other Chinese news services to ignore or obscure the issue:
South Korea's top official in charge of relations with North Korea on Tuesday asked China to quickly send North Korean defectors to South Korea.

Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, hoping to travel to Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries before resettling in South Korea.

Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik sought cooperation from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi to ensure that "North Korean defectors can quickly come to South Korea based on their free will."

As Pyongyang's key ally, China does not recognize North Korean defectors and repatriates them back to their homeland, where they could face harsh punishment and even execution, according to defectors and activists.

Still, Beijing has allowed defectors in high-profile cases to leave for South Korea in an apparent move to avoid international criticism.

Yang told Yu that China will handle defectors in accordance with domestic and international laws as well as humanitarian principles.

The comments come as a stream of North Koreans continues to cross the border into China for eventual defections to South Korea, home to more than 22,700 North Korean defectors, according to defectors and activists.
Like any country, China has the right to round up those who enter the country illegally and expel them. But the case of Korean refugees is not so simple, given not only that these are people escaping famine and oppression, but also that there is a second country that counts them as their citizens and is willing to take them (i.e., South Korea).

There is no excuse for China to repatriate North Korean refugees to North Korea.


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