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
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
Korean refugees have been arriving in South Korea to
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
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.
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.
||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.
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.
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
defectors arriving in Thailand are without question refugees
as recognized by the UNHCR and international community.
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.
Representative, Life Funds for
North Korean Refugees (LFNKR), Tokyo, Japan
Executive Secretary, Investigation Commission on Missing Japanese
Probably Related to North Korea
Society to Help Returnees to North Korea (HRNK), Tokyo, Japan
Helping Hands Korea (USA)
Rights Activist, Tokyo, Japan
Sang Hun Kim,
Rights Volunteer, Seoul, Korea