Wrong numbers for China visits

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Wrong numbers for China visits

Three little numbers are making it hard for people from Anseong, Gyeonggi, to visit China.

The numbers are 252. According to government documents obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo, the government assigned the number 252 in the residential numbers of all North Korean defectors finishing their obligatory three-month orientation at the Hanawon resettlement facility in Anseong until May of 2007.

The Chinese have figured that out, and according to Seoul officials, they’re on the lookout for North Korean defectors. China is worried defectors are crossing its borders to work as brokers for other North Koreans trying to escape, or to collect intelligence information about North Korea for Seoul. Anyone with 252 in their residential number, therefore, is suspect.

The problem is that 252 is also in the residential number of anyone born in Anseong. And they’re getting blocked from visiting China.

“Innocent Anseong citizens are suffering undue harm,” said Anseong city mayor Hwang Eun-sung in a letter to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security and to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Friday. “Please come up with measures to prevent any Anseong citizen from suffering a problem going to China or getting a visa for traveling to China.”

“Anseong citizens are having much difficulty in getting visas for China or extending them just because they have residential numbers having 252 in them,” said an official of the city in charge of civil affairs.

The official said the city has received many complaints online and offline. “Some people even threatened to set the city hall on fire,” the official said. A newlywed couple from Anseong, the official said, was recently refused a visa to go to China, their honeymoon destination.

“My husband and I planned to go to Hainan on a summer vacation and we called a travel agency recently,” said Hwang Hyeon-jeong, a housewife in her 30s living in Anseong. “The agency said it can’t provide us with a group visa issuance service, which is cheaper and faster in getting a visa, because of the 252 in our residential numbers,” she said. “We hope the government will swiftly come up with countermeasures.”

Tour agencies said they are recommending travelers from Anseong to submit documents proving they are native South Koreans - and not defectors - as a stopgap measure.

Government officials said it’s not easy to solve the problem because any action could be seen as intervention in China’s immigration policies.

“We are aware of difficulties [facing Anseong citizens] and will talk with China about the issue,” said a government official.

All North Korean defectors spend three months at the Hanawon facility. Around 19,000 North Korean defectors went through Hanawon since its foundation in 1999.

By Chun Su-jin [joe@joongang.co.kr]
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