North Korean soldiers stand at a fence on the bank of the Yalu River, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong, in China's northeast Liaoning province on Sept. 5. (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP)
The Chinese government appears to be escalating its crackdown on North Korean escapees trying to transit through China to seek refuge, a leading rights group says.
The Chinese authorities have detained at least 41 North Korean refugees, and an undetermined number of their guides, in the past two months, said Human Rights Watch (HRW) citing sources.
"China has known for years that North Korea security officials use torture as a matter of longstanding state policy and practice, and imprison people who leave the country without permission," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia Director at HRW.
"By returning them to a place of torture and persecution, China is clearly violating international law and its obligations as a nation that has ratified the U.N. Refugee Convention," he said.
The rights group said that North Koreans leaving their country illegally is a crime. Those caught doing so can be punished by imprisonment in long term prison camps for serious or prison camps for political offenses. Both of which have long been documented to be facilities where torture, starvation, and inadequate medical care are endemic.
The Chinese authorities regularly label North Koreans as illegal "economic migrants" rather than accepting them as refugees.