In the News – S. Korea to call on China to comply with refugee law for N. Korean defectors
SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) — In what appears to be a policy shift to step up efforts to avoid repatriation of North Korean defectors detained in China to their communist homeland, South Korea said Sunday it will urge Beijing to comply with an international refugee law.
South Korea has called on China not to send back North Korean defectors held in China through a bilateral diplomatic channel, but Seoul officials have grown frustrated with Beijing’s long-standing policy of turning a blind eye to the calls.
The issue reemerged last week as a group of North Koreans detained in China asked for South Korea’s intervention to try to stop China from sending them back to North Korea.
South Korea’s foreign ministry has urged China not to send back the North Koreans from a “humanitarian standpoint” and said it plans to hold director-level bilateral talks with Beijing to discuss the issue later this month.
“We have focused on bilateral consultations with China to resolve the issue of North Korean defectors, but recent bilateral consultations are not properly working,” said a senior official at Seoul’s foreign ministry.
“While maintaining the bilateral diplomatic channel, we will strongly urge China not to send them back under the international refugee law,” the official said on the condition of anonymity.
South Korea will convey its new call to Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who is scheduled to visit Seoul early next month, according to the official.
It was not immediately known how many North Korean defectors in China were facing repatriation and the South’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the number.
However, Park Sun-young, a lawmaker of the conservative minor Liberty Forward Party, has said a total of 27 North Korean defectors were caught by Chinese police in three separate occasions this month.
On Saturday, three more North Koreans were detained by Chinese authorities in the eastern port city of Qingdao, Park told Yonhap News Agency by telephone on Sunday. The lawmaker did not say where she got the information.
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, home to more than 23,000 North Korean defectors.
North Korean defectors face harsh punishments and even execution after being repatriated from China, according to defectors in South Korea and human rights activists.
Activists in Seoul said North Korea has toughened punishment for defectors since its new leader, Kim Jong-un, took the helm of Pyongyang following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.
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