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U.S. admits 6 from North as refugees, senator says

May 07,2006
A group of six refugees from North Korea, including four women who said they were sold into sexual slavery or forced marriages, arrived in the United States on Friday, a U.S. senator said in an interview with an international news outlet on Saturday.
The Associated Press reported that Senator Sam Brownback said that the group had been taken to an undisclosed location in the United States Friday night, coming from a Southeast Asian nation that he would not identify for the security of the refugees’ families and to avoid diplomatic complications for the transit country.
The group of North Koreans is the first to be given refugee status since the U.S. Congress approved the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, which makes applying for such status easier.
According to the news reports, Mr. Brownback, a co-sponsor of the law, said, “This is a great act of compassion by the United States and the other countries involved.” He added that the refugees’ arrival in the United States showed “the act is working” by making refugees’ human rights a part of U.S. policy toward the North.
U.S. President George W. Bush has showed interest in human rights violations in North Korea, and vowed more efforts to address the issue at a meeting with the family of a North Korean defector, Kim Han-mi, on April 28 at the White House.
As efforts to strip North Korea of its self-proclaimed nuclear weapons through six-nation negotiations in Beijing have foundered, Washington has increasingly turned to other forms of pressure on North Korea: criticism of its human rights regime, warnings of sanctions on a Macao bank handling North Korean accounts and publicity about its counterfeiting of U.S. currency.
The South Korean government has declined so far to comment on the record about the group’s arrival in the United States. An official in Seoul said only, “There was some kind of discussion between the Korean and U.S. governments while the group was seeking asylum in the United States.”
But privately, officials say they do not expect that the U.S. action will lead to a large number of North Korean refugees being allowed entry to the United States. One said, “Unless the United States significantly changes its refugee policy, which limits the number of refugees to 40,000 to 50,000 per year, the number of North Korean refugees will remain at current levels for the time being.”
Yun Deok-min, a professor of the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security, said, “The United States’ acceptance of North Korean refugees is meant to pressure Pyongyang to attend the six-party talks.” He added, “I think it is time for the South Korean government to reconsider its silent diplomacy regarding the North Korean human rights issue.”


by Lee sang-il, Park Sung-hee


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