Help refugeesThe international relations committee at the United States House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill Tuesday demanding a halt on the Chinese government’s forced repatriation of North Korean asylum seekers in China. The bill provides the North Korean defectors a justified chance to seek asylum in the U.S. and prevents them from being automatically categorized as illegal immigrants. It also seeks to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to interview the defectors.
When the defectors are returned home, they often suffer from harsh torture in concentration camps. Some are executed. The Chinese government knows about this situation but sends the defectors home anyway. This is clearly against the UN convention relating to the status of refugees concluded in 1951 and 1967. The principle is that when a defector requests an interview with the UNHCR, they are introduced to an officer from the organization. After a decision is made on the reason for defection, they are then judged on whether they will be granted asylum. North Korean defectors say that their days hiding in China after they miraculously fled the North are a “life in hell.” In their pitiful situation and status, defectors are often the target of abduction, trafficking and sexual attack.
Some defectors travel through jungles and even deserts to escape the Chinese guards. Tens of thousands of defectors are wandering the Chinese mainland and are “treated worse than a dog whose master died,” as an old proverb says. They have no country to protect them. They cross the border thinking that refuge awaits, but only more suffering and hardship greet them.
China is concerned that defectors will cross the borders en masse. It is ignoring the deeper problems because it does not want to hurt its relationship with North Korea. If China dreams of becoming a great nation of the 21st century, it should open its eyes to humanitarian issues related to the defectors. China should revise the agreement it made with North Korea on controlling cross-border issues.
The U.S. Congress is doing something that the South Korean government should be doing. The Korean government should be ashamed. South Korea is maintaining a “quiet diplomacy” because it does not want trouble with the North. Does the South Korean government think the human rights issue in North Korea will be resolved when it is not brave enough to speak up while giving aid?