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Dhaka Tribune

South Korea calls on China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors

  • Around 2000 North Korean defectors are estimated to be in China as of 2022
  • South Korea is open to accepting all defectors who want to come to the country
  • Kim emphasized upholding defectors' human rights in China according to global norms
Update : 23 Aug 2023, 10:48 PM

South Korea demanded that Beijing stop repatriating the detained North Koreans who have left their homeland in an attempt to make their way to a third country, Voice of America (VOA) reported.

China considers North Koreans entering its country to be illegal immigrants rather than refugees and arrests them when they are caught, then sends them back to North Korea, which treats them as traitors.

China is detaining North Korean defectors who face severe punishment for fleeing the repressive Kim regime, South Korean Unification Minister Kim Yung Ho said Wednesday at a seminar in Seoul, VOA reported.

Elizabeth Salmon, the UN special rapporteur on North Korea’s human rights, estimated the number of North Korean defectors in China to be as high as 2000, as of 2022, the South Korean minister used.

China has an “obligation to abide by international norms prohibiting forced repatriation,” Kim continued, adding, “The South Korean government will accept all defectors who wish to come to South Korea.”

According to VOA, Liu Pengyu, a spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, on Thursday said, “The Chinese government has all along handled issues related to the DPRK people illegally entering into China in keeping with Chinese laws, international law and humanitarianism.”

The official name of North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

China ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol in 1982 and is obligated to follow the convention’s core principle of nonrefoulment. That is a principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum-seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in probable danger, VOA reported.

Ties between China and North Korea are becoming closer as tensions between Beijing and Washington increase. The two Asian nations agreed to increase cooperation when a Chinese delegation visited Pyongyang in July as the allies marked the 70th anniversary of the end of the Korean War of 1951-53.

South Korea’s Kim said China must designate North Korean defectors as refugees who have the right to receive protection rather than as illegal immigrants, VOA reported.

He added that the human rights of North Korean defectors in China should be guaranteed according to international norms and that the North Koreans in China should be allowed to go to a country of their choosing such as South Korea.

Seoul has been raising human rights issues since President Yoon Suk Yeol took office in May 2022.

In the first open UN Security Council meeting on North Korea’s human rights in six years, South Korea’s UN Ambassador Hwang Joon-kook on Thursday condemned North Korea’s human rights abuses, VOA reported.

He said human rights abuses are a “critical national security issue” for South Korea as Pyongyang represses its people to develop nuclear and missile programs that threaten South Koreans.

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