[EDITORIALS]North Koreans in the U.S.With the acceptance of six refugees, the United States has opened a new era for North Korean asylum-seekers.
This is the first time North Koreans have been granted refugee status by the United States. Washington has attracted criticism and pressure from international human rights organizations; these organizations denounced it as paying only lip service or using human rights issues as a tool for political pressure, because the United States has been failing to follow up its talk on North Korea’s human rights situation with action.
This is why the recent decision signals that the United States has entered a new stage in dealing with North Korea’s human rights situation. If policies until now have been all talk but no action, the acceptance of the refugees shows that they have moved on to the action stage.
Now all eyes will focus on how much further the Bush administration will apply the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 and how many more refugees will be accepted and at what speed. Considering the anti-terrorism sentiment and stricter regulations regarding political refugees after the 9/11 terrorist acts, it is rather unlikely that the U.S. will rapidly accept more North Korean escapees.
The decision, however, indicates an increased interest in North Korea’s human rights issue within the United States, and it is likely to trigger more aggressive measures.
In fact, the Bush administration has raised the pressure on North Korea this year through the aggressive words of Jay Lefkowitz, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, andPresident George W. Bush’s meeting with the parents of Megumi Yokota - who was abducted by North Koreans - and a family of North Korean defectors.
The acceptance of North Korean refugees also presents a new problem for South Korea, China and North Korea.
South Korea has been trying to keep silent on human rights issues in North Korea while accepting refugees, who are regarded as South Koreans, to place priority on resolving the nuclear issue. This U.S. action creates the need for a fundamentally new approach.
Also China, which has been repatriating North Korean refugees against their will, and North Korea, which punishes escapees, will accept this U.S. move as serious, realistic pressure.
North Korea in particular faces a crossroads as to whether to shift its policies or resist fiercely and continue to focus on maintaining its system.