NKHR Issues

North Korean Defectors in China are facing repatriation to North Korea


? Most of North Korean defectors come South Korea via China

It is estimated that more than 20,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950s. Some of the refugees are trying to escape North Korean tyranny permanently by making their way through China to third countries, from which they can travel to the South. There are at least tens of thousands of North Koreans there today. And at the height of the severe food shortages in the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were as many as half a million.


? China is violating humanitarian principles

China has already said it will treat the North Koreans according to its own principles. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman recited the customary formula that Beijing is dealing with the issue “based on international and domestic laws and humanitarian principles.” In reality, Beijing almost always repatriates arrested North Korean escapees to maintain its close relationship with the North Korean regime, based on an agreement on border control signed between the two countries in 1986.


? The North Korean new leader is intensifying the crackdown on North Korean Defectors, who try to get freedom and to escape from starving

After Kim Jong Eun took power last December, one of his first acts was to issue a shoot-to-kill order to North Korean guards patrolling their side of the border. There are further reports that he ordered land mines to be buried on riverbanks to stop people from fleeing.

North Korean security agents are said to be flooding into China, where they spy on the refugees and the people who help them, and report them to the Chinese authorities. Reports from inside North Korea say the country’s new leader has issued a decree pledging to exterminate the families of anyone caught trying to flee.


? China is sending North Korean refugees to North Korea

China says that the North Koreans are “illegal economic migrants” who must be returned home. Its stand on the North Koreans is not a new policy – it has been sending back those it finds within its borders for many years. The number of North Korean refugees who were sent to the North has reached up to 3,600.

This month alone, Feb 2012, China is apparently preparing to send around 30 North Korean defectors back. North Koreans who are suspected of having met Christians, South Koreans or Americans while in China are executed or shipped off to the gulag. The rest of the returnees are sent to other prisons, where conditions are little better. Pregnant women are forced to undergo abortions, even in their third trimester, for the crime of carrying “Chinese seed.”


? Movement to protest the policy of China and North Korea

– A group of South Korean lawmakers is holding a protest in front of China’s Embassy in Seoul and one of those legislators is on a hunger strike that has lasted for nearly 10 days against Beijing’s repatriation policy. North Korean human rights organizations and lots of students also joined.

– South Korea’s parliament has passed a resolution demanding that China stops the repatriation of North Korean refugees. The resolution was backed by 154 lawmakers on 28 Feb, 2012.

– The United Nations refugee agency called on China not to send back to North Korea a group of some 25 people it arrested this month and to find a humanitarian solution to the situation

– Some 153,000 people have signed a worldwide online petition to stop China’s repatriation of NK refugees. The petition started on a website called www.change.org on Feb. 12 and has now drawn signatures from people from 100 countries, including South Korea, the U.S., Japan, Taiwan, Russia and even China itself.

– US Congress will hold an emergency hearing on China’s polity to send North Korean defectors back. A group of human rights activists plans to hold a protest rally in front of Chinese Embassy in Washington.


Each time the issue of repatriating North Koreans makes headlines, China’s tactic has been to wait until global attention dies down and then quietly send them back. In 2000, it even sent back seven people who had been recognized as refugees by the UNHCR. The only way to handle this is to spread awareness around the world that the plight of North Korean defectors is a matter of international and universal importance.


(This paper referred to articles by Wall Street Journal, Joseon daily news, Yonhap news agency.)