Search Website




About Our Group

Our Japanese Website

Frequently Asked Questions

What We Are Doing

Contact Us


International Fact-Finding Mission
on North Korean Refugees in Thailand

Joint Statement

Thursday, 1 March 2007 

We are a network of international human rights organizations and activists helping North Korean refugees in crisis. We are concerned that the Thai Government has recently begun to arrest and impose penalties on North Korean refugees pertaining to their illegal entry into or presence in Thailand.

We believe these arrests and penalties run counter to the spirit of Article 31 of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the international respect Thailand has gained for its prior full observation of the above-mentioned Convention as a member of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Under these circumstances, we have visited Thailand for a fact-finding mission between 25th February – 1st March, 2007 to better understand the current conditions that North Korean refugees face in Thailand.  

For this purpose, the Mission has had meetings with UNHCR-Bangkok, human rights lawyers and activists in Bangkok as well as Thai immigration and police authorities in Mesai, Chiang Sheng and Chian Kong areas during this period. 

The Mission wishes to take this opportunity to convey the gratitude and respect from the large number of North Korean refugees, who have arrived in South Korea through Thailand, to the people and Government of Thailand for humanitarian assistance they received while in Thailand.

The Mission is most pleased to confirm the humanitarian treatment of North Korean refugees by the people and government of Thailand and wishes to take this opportunity to express its own sincere gratitude and admiration to the people and government of Thailand for their humanitarian protection of refugees.

At the same time, mindful of the hardening attitude of some Thai government authorities towards North Korean refugees in recent months for stated reasons of “an increase in their numbers… and using Thailand as a springboard,” “profiteering brokers who are behind them,” and that the North Korean refugees constitute a “threat to national security,” the Mission wishes to appeal to the Government of Thailand on the following grounds:


North Korean refugees have been arriving in South Korea to obtain freedom via Russia, Mongolia and other countries in South East Asia. Simply put, the number of refugees has been increasing in recent years in all the abovementioned routes and Thailand has been but one such route. The refugees’ situation is so desperate that they risk even their own and families’ lives to escape persecution, starvation and oppression. Clearly, North Koreans arriving in Thailand are victims of an international disaster. The South Korean government is well prepared to accept them just as soon as possible to keep the burden on Thailand to absolute minimum. Other nations, including the United States, have also shown a willingness to accept some of these refugees to further reduce the pressure from refugee flow.

2. North Koreans are extremely poor, perhaps some of the most destitute people in the entire world today. Logically, how could any profiteer view the assistance of such a penniless people as a source of financial gain? The refugees arrive in Thailand after weeks, often months, of long, perilous and costly travel. In fact, some of the physically weaker refugees simply perish on the way when faced with the daunting challenge of trudging up and down the steep hill country, often hunted down by local villagers and authorities before reaching Thailand. Many humanitarian aid workers help the refugees unconditionally with no expectation of even reimbursement, let alone profit! Indeed, some volunteers assist them by meeting the expenses on promises of reimbursement a year later if the refugees arrive in South Korea safely, a precarious condition that no profiteer would find even remotely attractive. Some of the refugees have made partial payment in the desperate struggle for freedom with the help of relatives or supporters in other countries or South Korea. Clearly, this is not a case of profiteering by brokers.

3.. Not a single one of the many hundreds North Koreans who have arrived in Thailand has ever been rejected their refugee status by the UNHCR. All the North Korean refugees, without a single exception, have left Thailand as soon as possible.

4. The North Korean refugees have, in no way, been a threat to the national security of Thailand. None of them has acted against the security of Thailand or has been involved in any crimes.

5. North Korean refugees arriving in Thailand are clearly distinctive by appearance and behavior from other people groups arriving in Thailand from neighboring countries for the purpose of staying in Thailand, a chronic and long-term issue. On the other hand, the situation involving North Korean refugees arriving in Thailand is a short-term and temporary development that will come to an end in the foreseeable future.

6. North Korean defectors arriving in Thailand are without question refugees as recognized by the UNHCR and international community.

7. The Mission respectfully appeals to the Government of Thailand to assure the freedom of humanitarian aid workers to help refugees in respect of Article 31 of the abovementioned Geneva Convention.

Before closing, the Mission wishes to bring to the attention of the Thai immigration authorities the conditions that currently prevail in the Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants in Bangkok where some 300 inmates, including children and medical patients, have been crowded into a space sufficient for only 100 inmates.

There are only four toilets for 300 inmates and, some of the toilets are frequently out of order. It is the understanding of the Mission that the female inmates are prevented from stretching their legs when sleeping and wait many hours to use a toilet. The Mission would greatly appreciate the transfer of custody of North Korean refugees to the South Korean Embassy, as was the case previously, as refugees await their travel to resettlement in the Republic of Korea. Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Kato Hiroshi,
Representative, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), Tokyo, Japan

Manabe Sadaki,
Executive Secretary, Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese Probably Related to North Korea

Song Yun-bok,
Director, The Society to Help Returnees to North Korea (HRNK), Tokyo, Japan

T.A. Peters,
Helping Hands Korea (USA)

Kate Nielsen,
Canadian Human Rights Activist, Tokyo, Japan

Sang Hun Kim,
International Human Rights Volunteer, Seoul, Korea