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Amnesty appeals to China on refugees

Urges Beijing to stop forcibly repatriating defectors from North Korea

North Korean village seen from Dandong in China North Korean village seen from Dandong in China
  • Korea
  • February 21, 2012
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Amnesty International has called on Beijing not to forcibly repatriate nearly three dozen North Korean defectors currently being detained in China.

Around 30 North Koreans reportedly face repatriation and an uncertain future after being arrested by Chinese authorities recently.

Amnesty yesterday delivered a letter to Zhang Xinsen, the Chinese ambassador to South Korea, urging China not to send the defectors back.

If they are returned to their homeland, they would face detention, torture and even execution, Amnesty said.

“Their plight is even more precarious” because North Korean authorities threatened defectors with harsher punishments following the death of Kim Jong-il last December, said Nam Young-jin, chairman of Amnesty International South Korea in the letter.

International law prohibits the forcible repatriation of any individuals to a country where they are at risk of persecution or death, he pointed out.

Therefore, “the Chinese authorities must enable the North Koreans to seek asylum in China and other countries, and provide them with access to the UN refugee agency or other relevant refugee channels,” Nam said.

South Korea has also urged China not to send back the defectors.

Helen Lim Soon-hee, a senior research fellow at the Korean Institute for National Unification, said it should be seen as a “human rights issue” but China considers it a “political one” because of its relationship with North Korea.

Responding to the calls, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei said in Beijing yesterday that China is handling the issue in accordance with domestic and international laws, as well as humanitarian principles.

Some 22,000 North Koreans have defected from the impoverished communist country since the Korean War (1950-53), according to the Unification Ministry.

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