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President presses China over refugees

Seoul urges Beijing to follow international conventions on defectors

Lee speaking during  a news conference marking the fourth anniversary of his inauguration.
Lee speaking during a news conference marking the fourth anniversary of his inauguration.
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • February 23, 2012
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South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has urged China to follow international conventions when it comes to handling North Korean refugees.

Lee was speaking yesterday during a news conference on the fourth anniversary of his inauguration. A South Korean president’s term is five years.

“As they are not criminals, it would be right for China to handle them based on international humanitarian norms,” Lee stressed, pressing China not to repatriate them in future.

To this end South Korea will cooperate with China to resolve this issue, Lee said during the hour-long, press conference that was broadcast on national television from the presidential office.

Cho Byung-jae, a foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, announced on Tuesday that the government has decided to appeal to the international community over the issue of North Korean refugees, and will do so at the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting to be held next week in Switzerland.

China disapproves of the move.

According to the Chinese foreign ministry, it is not an issue to be discussed in the UN, stressing that the defectors are not refugees but migrants who illegally cross the border “for economic reasons.”

Around 80 North Koreans reportedly face repatriation and an uncertain future after being arrested by Chinese authorities recently.

Reverend Peter Jung who helps North Korean defectors said “this is the first time South Korea will have raised the refugee issue at the UN,” but held out little hope of anything being done.

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