at International Conference
2, 2008 in Korea
Hiroshi, Executive Director of Life Funds for North
Korean Refugees (LFNKR), was invited by Korea Christian University
to speak at its international conference. His speech was entitled “International
Refugee Policy and Intervention & Training Plans for Specialized
Social Workers.” The following is the script of the speech
he presented at the conference on April 2, 2008.
Policies on North Korean Refugees and Problems They Encounter
when Settling in Japan”
two consecutive years, the UN General Assembly has adopted
a resolution condemning the abuse of human rights in North
Korea. The UN Human Rights Committee has issued three recommendations
to North Korea, and the UN Board of Directors has issued two
addition, at the UN human rights board of directors held
in March 2008, Dr. Vitit Muntabhorn, the UN Special Rapporteur
on North Korean human rights, reported severe abuse of human
rights in North Korea and urged the North Korean government
to accept a survey.
situation, however, has shown no signs of changing.
Chinese government still regards North Korean defectors
as illegal immigrants, and, to this date, it continues to arrest
and repatriate them, while the North Korean government continues
its harsh punishment of North Korean defectors, including public
executions of some. However, the North Korean refugees continue
fleeing their country. This has caused serious security problems
for neighboring countries, leading to an international issue.
following discussion presents the Japanese government’s
policies toward North Korean refugees.
2. North Korean defectors (refugees) are classified roughly
into the following three groups:
first group may be classified as “migrant workers.” They
work in the agricultural industry, the timber industry,
coal mining, etc. in China, then go back to North Korea with
or food they have earned in China.
second group may be classified as “settle-in” refugees.
They flee from North Korea into China, then settle in
China to survive.
third group may be classified as “settle-in-a-third-country” refugees.
They flee from North Korea into China, then attempt to
move on to a third country after they find China an unsafe
in which to settle.
discussion here will focus mainly on the North Korean
refugees of the third group, those who try to move to a third
country to survive. After fleeing from North Korea, most of
them aim at destination nations to settle in, and they travel
to their intended destination via neighboring countries, such
as Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand in Southeast Asia
or Burma in Southwest Asia. The destination nations include
South Korea, Japan, and the USA. Recently, the choice of destination
nations has expanded to include Canada and EU nations, such
as the UK, Germany and Scandinavian countries.
means that North Korean refugees are no longer a local
issue. They have now become an international issue. It also
means that the serious human rights violations against North
Korean refugees is directly connected to the security issue
in Northeast Asia and also affects peace, security and order
for the entire world.
3.Who qualifies as a North Korean refugee?
border between North Korea and China has become more
strictly guarded with each passing year as the number of North
Korean defectors increases:
Barbed-wire fencing equipped with monitoring cameras has
been installed along national roads at the border.
2) Border guard police patrol the border. Special check gates
have been set up, and all vehicles passing through the gates
are checked. The checks are very thorough, with drivers of
the vehicles being required to open the trunks.
3)Special vigilance has been implemented through the use of
mobile check gates by the Chinese border guard police.
village along the border has infantry platoons stationed.
The troops are dispatched from the Shenyang Military
District, Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
With such a strict border guard system, it is difficult to
successfully escape from North Korea into China. This, however,
does not prevent people from trying, even at the risk of their
lives, to seek freedom of access to food. In recent years,
the number of successful escapes seems to be decreasing.
Korean refugees may have a chance to succeed in their escape
are capable of bribing the border guard police on the North
somebody who will accept them in China.
physically strong enough to cross the border.
determined firmly enough to move into a third country whatever
blessed with luck.
few are lucky enough to have all the above conditions
that may lead to a successful escape. If they have connections
in China, then their chance of success improves.
4.How many North Korean refugees have settled in?
the number of North Korean refugees who have settled in South
Korea passed the 13,000 mark at the end of January
2008. Each year, the South Korean government's Ministry
of Unification officially announces the number of North Korean
refugees who have successfully reached South Korea.
government does not announce the number of North
Korean refugees who have settled in Japan due to “diplomatic considerations” for
certain countries involved.
Japanese NGOs concerned, including LFNKR, estimate the
number of North Korean refugees to settle in Japan by the end
of February 2008 is approximately 170.
the United States passed its North Korean Human Rights
Act of 2004, the US had accepted 43 North Korean refugees by
March 2008. In Europe, Germany has the largest number of North
Korean refugees, already exceeding 1300. Among them, more than
580 have been granted refugee status.
Belgian authorities granted refugee status to 8 North
Korean defectors between 1993 and 2006. As of January 2008,
over 30 North Korean defectors were waiting to apply for the
Status of Refugee in Belgium.
British government granted refugee status and right of
residency to 130 out of 425 North Korean defectors who submitted
their asylum applications last year.
Canadian Immigration and Refugees Bureau began accepting
asylum applications from North Korean refugees in 1996. During
the period from 1996 to 2007, over 170 North Korean defectors
applied for asylum, but only four people were granted the right
of residency and refugee status in Canada.
The barrier of “avoiding the irritation” of
are many barriers in Japan that need to be removed in order to
help North Korean refugees. The Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry
of Justice in Japan have accurate numbers related to North
but they refuse to publicly reveal that information.
They insist it would “offend the concerned nations.”
Japanese NGOs are required by law to keep themselves
nonpolitical and nonreligious, meaning that potential financial
resources for funding their activities are limited to individual
donations. It is difficult to attract donations when it is
impossible to provide prospective donors with specific information,
including the number of North Korean refugees, and the kinds
of difficulties and suffering they endure when escaping from
should be able to know at least how many people have reached
Japan, because this is some of the most basic and important
information. The policy of the Japanese government not to release
this most basic information, saying that it would offend the
nations concerned, adversely affects the activity of NGOs in
exception to this pattern was a bit of information disclosed regarding
the number of North Korean defectors who have settled
in Japan. One of the diet lawmakers, a member of
the opposition Democratic Party, asked during a congressional
session in 2000
how many North Korean defectors have settled in
Japan. In replying to this question, the deputy secretary,
the second highest
official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said “We
cannot give you an accurate number, because it would cause
difficulty for the people concerned. Also, it involves the
privacy of individuals.” This was an obvious
attempt to avoid answering.
lawmaker repeatedly asked the same question in different forms until
finally the deputy secretary disclosed that a few
dozen have acquired special residency permission.
Hoping for more accurate data, the questioner responded “According
to the information I have, twenty-odd North Korean defectors
have obtained special residency permission. Is this number
accurate?” To this the deputy secretary replied, “Yes,
this case, according to the government’s theory,
it was not the government who disclosed the figure; it was
the lawmaker who did. The deputy secretary tried hard to stay
within the government's policy of “never
offend the related countries.”
Japanese government is especially nervous about China
and North Korea, among its neighboring countries. Although
South Korea is also a neighboring country, South Korea and
Japan share the same basic sense of values toward democracy,
so that they would arguably find it easier to solve any bilateral
problem, should such a problem arise, than it would with the
other two countries.
the Japanese government is not the only one that hates to see
incidents develop into diplomatic issues. The governments
of almost all countries try hard to follow the
stance of “diplomacy behind a curtain” or “never
offend related nations.”
has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, but if a stable
peace and security in Northeast Asia is to be achieved,
it will be necessary to restore diplomatic relations
between these two countries. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign
wishes to advance negotiations to restore relations,
and therefore it closely adheres to its “make-no-waves” policy.
This is, however, preventing the Japanese government
from taking the lead in finding a solution.
addition, the widespread negative feelings in Japan toward
North Korea because of the abductee issue seems to be prompting
the Japanese government to be even more careful. Moreover,
the Japanese government obviously wishes to avoid making an
issue of its acceptance of North Koreans who formerly lived
in Japan as long as there are still serious ongoing violations
of the human rights of North Korean defectors in China. The
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs worries that if the news
media begin reporting on this issue, it will complicate the
already sensitive issues among China, Japan, North Korea, and
cases where serious human rights or humanitarian issues
have developed into political issues, NGOs generally urge a
broader based treatment. Rather than limiting the issues to
bilateral handling, it would generally be better to establish
an international framework in order to assure local peace and
government's stance of maintaining “quiet diplomacy” does
aid some refugees in moving safely to their destination
countries, so their policy may deserve some respect; however,
seldom leads to the permanent solution of issues.
6. Relationship between the government and NGOs
it is important for the government and NGOs to work
together in resolving problems, cooperation between them is
not always smooth or successful.
the viewpoint of NGOs, the government should not continue to
hold too stringently to its “make-no-waves” policy.
This policy frequently conflicts with the basic stance of NGOs
whose important purpose is to seek a permanent solution. This
is a fact. NGOs frequently disagree with the government’s
stance, which is based on seeking solutions in “a quiet
environment.” Confrontations usually come
from differences of assessment by nations involved.
example, in the past, there have been confrontations between
the Japanese government and LFNKR when this organization's
humanitarian aid workers were detained by the Chinese authorities.
Anyone who attempts to help or protect North Korean refugees
in China is punished under the Chinese criminal code Article
318 related to illegal immigrants.
that time, the Japanese government insisted that LFNKR
should absolutely not hold a press conference, since it would
irritate the Chinese government. On the other hand, LFNKR decided
that keeping quiet would be tacitly accepting the Japanese
government's stance, which held that the humanitarian aid workers,
by engaging in the rescue activities, had violated Chinese
domestic law, and should of course be punished under their
domestic law. NGOs, including LFNKR, basically support the
opinion that humanitarian aid workers are engaged in the rescue
of refugees as specified by the Refugees Convention, which
is an international law, and that if a domestic law conflicts
with an international law, the international law takes precedence
over the domestic law. For this reason, LFNKR continues to
urge the Japanese government to deal with the Chinese government
more resolutely and to firmly call for the immediate release
of humanitarian aid workers from unjustifiable restraint.
Japanese government seems unwilling to actively come to the aid of
humanitarian workers or human rights activists if
they are arrested; the best they have done in
the past has been “begging the arresting government for clemency.” This
has never worked. Instead, the Chinese government
sentenced one worker to 8 months of imprisonment while another
a 2-year prison sentence. This result is absolutely unacceptable.
7. Problems remaining for rescuers to resolve
every North Korean refugee can go to a third country such
as South Korea or Japan.
has never decided to rescue or protect any North Korean
refugee according to their social status in the North Korean
society. It does not matter whether they were military officers,
top officials of the Labor Party, actual laborers or farmers.
LFNKR has also never decided to rescue someone because they
have money or whether or not they happen to belong to a particular
Korean NGOs supported by Christian churches in South
Korea impose conditions on North Korean refugees when deciding
which ones to help and protect. For example, people who have
more successfully achieved the assignments given to them by
pastors or missionaries receive tickets to third countries
sooner. Specific conditions that North Korean refugees must
meet if they are to qualify include the following:
Does he/she have enough money (3000RMB in Chinese currency)
to travel to their destination third country?
If he/she does not have money, does he/she go to a Christian
church in China and eagerly engage in morning
and evening prayer services?
Does he/she attend the Bible study meetings to deepen their
of the Bible?
Can he/she actually demonstrate a pattern of giving to the
If he/she wishes to settle in South Korea, will they promise
to donate 10%
income once settled in South Korea?
North Korean refugees have no alternative. They must obey
the dictates of South Korean pastors or missionaries while
they are in China because they need the church's help to hide
from Chinese police. If they fail to obey, they are very likely
to be ushered out of the shelters. Since they are in such a
vulnerable position, they frequently have to obey against their
pastors complain that North Korean refugees are enthusiastic
Christians while they are in China, but they quit coming to
churches after they make it to South Korea. This is no surprise.
Most of the refugees had to chose to be Christians in order
to survive in China. Thus, they often lose interest once they
reach a free society. Unless anyone chooses to be a believer
in any religion, of their own free will, it constitutes forced
belief. This violates their freedom to believe as their conscience
guides them, and it also violates their human rights.
8.Settle-in support provided by the Japanese government
2002, the Japanese government established a policy to extend
protection to North Korean refugees provided that they meet
Japanese nationality requirements. This policy was established
after the Han-mi incident (the Han-mi family, who had a 3-year-old
daughter at that time, daringly dashed into a Japanese consulate
in Shenyang in China).
shocking scene of the Han-mi incident was videotaped,
and that footage was repeatedly broadcast worldwide by most
major news media. This disclosed the ongoing violation of human
rights in China and also the existence of North Korean refugees.
It also disclosed the shameful behavior of the Japanese consul,
and prompted strong criticism in Japan of the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs. As a result of that incident, the Japanese Ministry
of Foreign Affairs was urged to announce that the Japanese
government would extend protection to North Korean refugees
who meet the Japanese nationality requirements and would urge
the government of an involved country to provide humanitarian
that incident, a group of North Korean refugees
dashed into a Japanese school in Beijing. This time, the Japanese
consulate promptly took protective action by sending them to
the Japanese Embassy. As soon as the refugees expressed their
wish to go to South Korea, the Japanese Embassy immediately
handed their custody over to the South Korean Embassy in Beijing.
This incident demonstrated an improvement in the handling of
North Korean refugees. More specifically, a system has now
been established whereby refugees who meet the Japanese nationality
requirements are unconditionally protected by the Japanese
government, while those who express their wish to go to specific
countries are handed over to the governments of the countries
with relative promptness.
North Korean refugees who meet the Japanese nationality
requirements and who are qualified to settle in Japan are those
who are either ethnic Koreans formerly residing in Japan under
the qualification of special permanent residents or who are
relatives of up to third degree.
1959 to 1976, there were 187 boat-loads of ethnic Korean
residents in Japan, including Japanese spouses of ethnic Koreans
(more than 93,000 people in total) who traveled to the northern
part of the Korean peninsula.
Japan was defeated in World War II, and lost its colonies.
The ethnic Korean residents living in Japan back
then lost their Japanese nationality and
reverted to Korean nationality. Some returned to South Korea,
which had regained
its sovereignty, while those who chose to
stay in Japan became foreigners with Korean nationality.
This was defined as “special
permanent residents.” After the Korean
War broke out in 1950, Korean blockade runners
who fled to Japan acquired
special residence permits, which later were
turned into special permanent resident permits.
The special permanent residents living in
Japan have polarized into two groups, reflecting
the political climate in the
Korean Peninsula. One group is Mindan (Korean
Residents Union in Japan), which supports
the South Korean government. The
other group is Chosen Soren (General Association
of Korean Residents in Japan), which supports
the North Korean government.
Then beginning in about 1959, many Chosen
Soren supporters left Japan and emigrated
to North Korea, believing the propaganda
of “Come to the paradise on earth.”
of this past “return campaign” history,
the Japanese government has come to accept
the resettlement of former special permanent residents back
into Japan. The
93,000 returnees to North Korea also include
Japanese spouses of those ethnic Koreans. These North Korea
returnees now have
families in that country, and the population
of their families is estimated to be about 300,000.
9. Procedure of settling in Japan
a North Korean defector asks the Japanese government
through a Japanese Embassy or Japanese consulate for asylum,
the Japanese government first examines whether he or she is
qualified to settle in Japan. The time required by diplomatic
missions to finally decide on the qualification varies from
one case to another, but it usually ranges from 30 to 90 days
on the short side, to as much as 11 months. Recently, the required
time seems to be longer.
before it decides to rescue and protect a North
Korean refugee, asks the following questions:
Is he or she firmly determined to settle in Japan?
Why did he or she have to flee from North Korea?
Is he or she a former special resident, or a family member
a former special resident?
Which returning shuttle boat did he or she take when moving
North Korea (to make sure that
he or she is a
former special resident in Japan).
Does he or she have a guarantor in Japan?
addition to the above questions, LFNKR also asks
the following questions to further confirm that he or she
is serious and
determined enough to settle in Japan.
What were his or her living conditions in North Korea.
Specific reason(s) for escaping from North Korea.
Specific reasons(s) why he or she cannot go back to North
Specific reason(s) why he or she cannot stay in China.
What he or she expects from Japan.
to these questions will be very important for advisors
who try to assist them once they reach Japan to resettle.
Japanese government’s policy for North Korean
defectors to settle in Japan
Japanese government does not have specific policies for
North Korean refugees who have fled from their fatherland.
South Korean government has a resettlement system for
North Korean defectors. According to the system, North Korean
defectors first undergo a thorough 30-day investigation of
personal identification carried out by Dae Song Kong Sa (an
organization for joint investigation of North Korean defectors
by intelligence agencies, such as the National Intelligence
Service, National Police Agency, and the Military Intelligence
Headquarters). They then stay in Hanawon for about 2 months
to receive training for resettlement. When they graduate from
Hanawon to join the South Korean society, they are given a
place to live and are referred to potential workplaces.
Japanese government has no specific agency responsible
for such investigations, resettlement training and education.
This means that North Korean defectors have to look for jobs
on their own or depend on assistance extended by NGOs.
South Korean government provides North Korean defectors
with money for their resettlement, whereas the Japanese government
provides them with no such money. In other words, the Japanese
Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for protecting them
until they reach Japan, but once they arrive in this country,
they have to depend on guarantors, or on NGOs if no guarantor
Japanese government’s policy is to accept special
permanent residents and their relatives
up to the third degree on a humanitarian basis, but it extends
no official aid to
North Korean refugees.
most daunting challenge that North Korean defectors face
when they try to settle in Japan is the language. If they cannot
speak Japanese, it is extremely difficult to settle in Japan.
The first-generation defectors may be familiar with the Japanese
language, but it should be expected that second-generation
defectors are not. Some first-generation defectors may not
be at all familiar if they were taken to North Korea when they
were only 1 year old, so these people also may not be familiar
with the language.
third-generation refugees moving into Japan are mostly
in their late teens to twenties, so they learn the Japanese
language relatively quickly, and find it easier to secure jobs,
which makes their resettlement easier. The second-generation
defectors require more time to learn the language since they
are much older. Volunteers currently help them with the language,
but this is inadequate for fully mastering Japanese. Most defectors
moving back to Japan possess very few assets and cannot afford
to go to private Japanese language schools.
11. Supplying welfare benefits instead of resettlement money
expenses, including the transportation fees
for going from the airport to the place where they wish to
resettle, are to be borne by their legal guarantors. If their
guarantors cannot come to meet them at the airports, NGOs bear
the expenses. If their guarantors are senior citizens living
on pensions and cannot provide the defectors with housing,
then the guarantors are very often unable to pay housing expenses
for their defector relative. In such cases, and in cases where
there is no guarantor, the refugee must apply for welfare benefits,
since there is no system for providing money specifically for
North Korean defectors can apply for welfare benefits
in the district where they choose to reside, they must complete
their resident registration in that district. It is almost
impossible for them to do this all by themselves, because most
of them arrive in Japan penniless.
the law irrationally stipulates that if an NGO
pays the necessary expenses to secure the defector's housing,
so that he or she can be accepted as a welfare recipient, then
the defector is legally regarded as an income earner. This
automatically disqualifies them from receiving the welfare
benefits, including the housing expenses for which they are
they are approved to receive welfare benefits, they receive
the amount of money for rent specified in each administrative
district (e.g., up to 68,000 yen (approx. US$650) in Tokyo)
and 86,000 yen (approx. US$840) as living expenses. It is extremely
difficult, however, to find an apartment or a house within
the specified price range, indicating that the specified rent
standard itself is unrealistic, as it does not match reality.
difficulty in finding a living place is that North
Korean defectors who do not speak Japanese are regarded by
landlords as foreigners, which makes it difficult to find lessors
who will accept them. Thus, they must find lessors who are
sympathatic toward the background of North Korean refugees.
If they cannot find an apartment to rent, they must go to facilities
for rehabilitating them back into society.
the need for medical treatment, once they are approved
for welfare benefits, they will automatically be entitled to
free medical treatment.
North Korean refugees face difficulties in finding jobs.
In addition, since they do not have pensions, it is all the
more difficult for them to live independent lives. Another
problem is that even working-age refugees frequently find it
difficult to move beyond the life style supported by their