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Our Activities in FY2002-2003

Current Situation of North Korean Refugees

Annual Report 2003

The repressive conditions in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, brought on by food shortages and state sponsored human rights violations, has forced increasing numbers of North Korean citizens to defect into China in search of food and temporary employment. Chinese authorities, however, allow neither refugee nor parole status to North Korean defectors, and wage a continuing and systematic crackdown aimed at disclosing, exposing and persecuting them. As a result, those defectors forcibly repatriated by Chinese authorities are prosecuted under the North Korean Criminal Law Sec.47, and eventually suffer intolerable atrocities as political prisoners upon returning to North Korea.

China, although a signatory to the U.N. Refugee Convention, has failed to meet its obligation under that agreement, refusing to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees and thus to grant them refugee status. Clearly, this is a violation of international law. The well-respected international NGO Jubilee Campaign and other NGOs have been highly critical of China's behavior.

In December 1995, China signed an agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees which upgraded the UNHCR Mission in China to a UNHCR Branch Office. The agreement set forth a new Protocol, granting the UNHCR the right to provide international protection and humanitarian assistance to North Korean refuges in China. However, the UNHCR has yet to fully exercise these rights in China. Its performance with regards to North Korean refugees in China has been inadequate at best. Thus, it should be noted that the UNHCR violates its own obligations under the Convention on Refugees.

The international NGO community recognizes the North Korean refugee issue in China as a violation of international law regarding human rights and humanitarian principles. Sharp criticisms have been raised worldwide, not only of the North Korean government but also of the Chinese authorities. The world demands a more critical assessment of China's policies towards North Korean refugees.

Reports indicate that once taken into custody by Chinese authorities, North Korean defectors have been robbed of their money and mercilessly tortured with electric prods. Most often, they are subsequently repatriated to North Korea, where far worse tortures await. North Korean defectors, seeking to escape severe human rights violations back home, face a similar predicament in China, where they wish only for the opportunity to fulfill their basic human needs.

The 54th United Nations Human Rights Subcommittee held in Geneva in 2002 unanimously ratified a resolution pledging international protection and relief for North Korean refugees and condemning any form of forcible repatriation. The resolution has placed more pressure on China to act in compliance with international law. In the presence of mass media, China dutifully deports North Korean refugees to a third country in an effort to conceal its crimes, insisting that its treatment of refugees strictly adheres to both international and municipal laws regarding humanitarian right. However, when not under the watchful eye of the media, China does not hesitate to vigorously carry out its forcible repatriation policy.

In the last year, the Chinese authorities have become increasingly vigilant in carrying out this policy of repatriation, shifting focus to a new crack-down on NGO activists working on behalf of North Korean refugees in China.

In August 2002, a South Korean humanitarian aid-worker, Mr. Kim Hee-tae, was arrested along with five North Korean refugees by the Chinese authorities near the train station in Changhun, Jilin Province.

A South Korean pastor, Mr. Chun Ki-won, was arrested in Inner Mongolia for entering China illegally and providing assistance to North Korean refugees escaping into Mongolia.

A senior official of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, Mr. Kato Hiroshi, was arrested in Dalian and taken into Chinese custody in November.

In January, South Korean humanitarian aid worker Choi Yong-Hun and South Korean photojournalist Seok Jae-Hyun were sentenced to five and two years in prison, respectively, after being arrested in the Chinese port city of Yantai for allegedly assisting fifty North Korean refugees attempting to defect to South Korea on a small fishing boat.

In August, the head of the Japan-based Society to Help Returnees to North Korea, Mr. Fumiaki Yamada and a South Korean humanitarian aid-worker were arrested and detained by Chinese authorities, together with two South Korean journalists.

It is interesting to note that although both Japanese and South Koreans have been arrested by Chinese authorities for illegal border crossings, Japanese humanitarian activists and aid-workers have received comparitively lenient sentences, and have been released within relatively short periods of time. By contrast, several South Korean aid workers have been detained in China for periods of over a year, while others remain in Chinese custody even now. This is due in part to the Japanese government's willingness to address human rights and humanitarian issues in North Korea and China. South Korea, on the other hand, has yet to articulate its position on these issues.

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees devotes itself to the mission of providing humanitarian support to North Korean refugees, while strenuously urging Chinese authorities and UNHCR to meet the demands of the world community. As an internationally recognized NGO, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees undertakes the following activities:

1. Providing Safety for North Korean Refugees

At the end of October, when the secretary general of this organization, Mr. Hiroshi Kato, was arrested in Dalian, Chinese authorities confiscated his notebooks containing the list of local aid-workers in that area. As our aid-workers were summoned and interrogated, several projects were substantially hindered. We were forced to reorganize, and eventually to abandon one of the most important bases in the area. We were able to shift reliable shelters to other regions, and to establish Shelters SS-01, SS-02, and SS-03.

2. Supplying Summer and Winter Clothes

We distributed 400 summer and 400 winter sets of clothing. Three hundred sets of winter clothes were secretly given to North Korean refugees hiding in China, while the remainder were distributed to North Koreans in Han Gyong Puk Do. The amount of clothing we handed over exceeded our initial targets. More notably, the number of refugees shows no sign of decreasing, but rather to be increasing year by year.

3. Medical Support

In China, we covered the hospital bills of three North Korean foster children with hepatitis. In Han Gyong Puk Do, the medical bills for a woman suffering from hepatitis were also paid. We helped provide Chinese medication to a North Korean woman with severe symptoms of anemia caused by substantial hematochezia. Later, a medical specialist was dispatched, providing treatment for about three months. Despite the treatment's success, she will likely need an operation in a third country.

4. Self-Support Program

We continued knit cushion production and sales promotion, selling over 400 pairs with the campaign slogan: "Profits from this cushion can buy 10 kilograms of rice." Although more than 300 wooden crosses were also produced, inadequate packaging resulted in product damage, and there were nearly 100 left unsold.

5. Foster Parenthood

Substantial and systematic crackdowns and Mr. Kato's arrest at the end of October in 2002 in Dalian had a devastating impact on our foster programs. As local aid-workers were taken away for interrogation by the authorities, we had to send North Korean foster children to new and more secure locations. The arrest, occuring right after the incident in which seven of our foster children were forcibly repatriated by the authorities, served to heighten the disquiet among us. In order to relieve the pressure on foster parents and better secure the safety of foster children, we did away with our previous system of assigning foster parents to specific foster children. Rather, we were obliged to ask all foster parent applicants to take care of all foster children.