[EDITORIALS]Another defector problemA sharp increase in the backlog in processing North Korean defectors in China has led to the suspension of consular services at the Korean Embassy in Beijing, and visa applicants are being told to go to other Korean consulates in China.
The direct cause of the situation is the increase in the number of North Korean defectors, and the Chinese authorities have not been able to catch up with the rising number by adding to their processing staff and speeding up the processing of the defectors.
There are now perhaps 130 North Koreans inside the consular section in Beijing awaiting processing by the Chinese authorities, more than double the capacity of 50. The embassy has allocated more than 20 percent of its staff to the care of the defectors.
The treatment of the defectors by China has improved significantly. There has been an understanding between South Korea and China to stop repatriating defectors to the North, and the travel by North Korean defectors to the South through a South Korean diplomatic mission has become customary.
The suspension of consular services at the embassy in Beijing is a new problem, and cooperation by the Chinese government is a critical factor. China should speed up processing so that North Koreans do not have to spend weeks inside the consular section in horrid conditions. Our foreign ministry should consider expanding its facilities in Beijing, and the government should plan to accommodate the defectors by adding halfway houses in Korea and by setting up a refugee camp in China or in a third country.
North Korean defectors in China are a complex problem in view of the special relationship between China and North Korea and the conflict between international law and humanitarian sentiment. The issue has long occupied the Chinese and South Korean governments and the international community. It is time for the government to renew cooperation not only with China but also the United States, Japan and the United Nations, because as long as North Korea continues to isolate itself, the number of North Korean refugees will only increase.