Current Situation of North Korean Refugees
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
senior official of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees,
Mr. Kato Hiroshi, was arrested in Dalian and taken into Chinese
custody in November.
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
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.
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
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:
Providing Safety for North Korean Refugees
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.
Supplying Summer and Winter Clothes
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.
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
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.
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.