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"China Must Protect Asylum Seekers":
Amnesty Int'l, Japan

Translated from Japanese Press Statement
Released February 4, 2003

The Chinese government must protect asylum seekers. The Chinese security officers have detained several dozen refugees in Yantai City, Shandong Province.

On January 18, 2003, Chinese security officers detained several dozen North Korean refugees and asylum seekers in Yantai City, Shandong Province, People's Republic of China.

These people had escaped from North Korea and were attempting to leave China, seeking asylum either in South Korea or Japan. According to reports from several organizations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), this incident involves 48 North Korean people, including a number of children.

These asylum seekers have so far been given no access to a refugee determination procedure. Reportedly, ten have already been repatriated to North Korea.

Since 1999, North Koreans fleeing into China are being detained in increasing numbers by the Chinese authorities and forcibly sent back to North Korea. Most of those detained during the crackdown in China have been denied access to any refugee determination procedure.

Under North Korean law, the act of leaving the country without permission is a crime; punishment ranges from seven years of imprisonment to death. It is feared, therefore, that if these asylum seekers are repatriated, they will also face the same sentences. Such treatment, a violation of their human rights, includes arbitrary detention or imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment. In some cases they may face summary execution or death during detention from starvation or disease.

Amnesty International Japan is deeply concerned about the continuing detention of the refugees from North Korea. If they are forcibly repatriated, they will be subjected to atrocious treatment that violates all international human rights standards. This includes the principle of non refoulement, Article 33 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which China is signatory. On this matter, Amnesty International Japan expresses grave concern to the Chinese government.

Amnesty International Japan strongly calls upon the Chinese government to grant the asylum seekers the legitimate rights of access to fair and independent refugee determination procedure under the auspices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This organization also urges the Chinese government not to repatriate these people to North Korea where they are likely to face violations of their human rights.

Amnesty International Japan