[EDITORIALS]Is South ready for defectors?The issue of North Korean defectors is gaining more attention as other nations are showing increased interest in the problem. Already, the United States, China and Mongolia have proved that they are ready to actively intervene.
Mongolia recently announced that it would not repatriate North Korean defectors to China once they enter the Mongolian territory. After the passing of the North Korea Human Rights Act, the U.S. Department of State is now considering designating North Korean defectors as a “Priority 2” group, which allows them to apply for refugee status without a referral from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
China, on the other hand, made it clear that it will watch for any North Korean seeking entry into foreign diplomatic compound in China and punish them when caught. They are currently rounding up masses of North Koreans and repatriating many.
Chances are that the defector issue will draw international attention. It will be especially so, if the United States and China clash over their differences in position and level of response to the issue. It is time for the government to review our North Korean defector policy.
First of all, South Korea’s policy of quiet diplomacy failed to reach out to North Korean defectors in China. We cannot neglect them in a situation where their human rights are violated miserably. As a country that promotes human rights, we have to take the necessary action.
We often hear that there are middlemen in China that use North Korean defectors to make illegal profits from the government aid given to defectors. But it should not be used as an excuse to neglect those who are desperate to escape North Korea.
The government should have a clear understanding that not everyone is being used by brokers. A separate measure is necessary to regulate the brokers instead, so that they may not get any money that should go to the defectors.
The U.S. move to designate North Korean defectors as a Priority 2 group means that the United States is preparing for a possible mass exodus from North Korea. Since the United States intervenes in the defector issue in earnest, Korea must establish a network of cooperation with Washington. We are worried that the government is taking the situation lightly, while the United States is ready to intervene.