China will send 19 defectors to SouthA group of 19 North Korean defectors being held in China will arrive in South Korea as early as this month in a rare move that goes against Chinese policy, a diplomatic source said yesterday.
“It appears that the Chinese government has made an exception in this case in allowing the defectors to go to South Korea, considering the international issue it has become,” the source said, adding that the recent visit to Seoul by Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang may also have had an impact.
As Pyongyang’s biggest ally, China does not recognize North Korean defectors within its borders as refugees and regularly deports them back to the North, where they are said to face severe punishments ranging from torture to public execution.
A total of 20 North Korean defectors, including two who are now South Korean citizens, were rounded up by Chinese authorities in the northeastern city of Shenyang in September to be sent back home.
Of the South Korean nationals, both of whom were once defectors, one returned home last month while the other remains in Chinese custody on charges of making a profit by illegally assisting his fellow defectors.
“The 19 remaining defectors will soon be in the South,” said the source, who is familiar with the situation.
“The Chinese government has decided to provide them with traveler’s certificates,” the source added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source also said that 18 of the defectors, who are currently being held in a detention center in the northeastern Chinese city of Tumen, will arrive first around Nov. 20, while the South Korean national is likely to be released later on bail.
An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said he could not confirm the defectors’ arrival as Beijing had not provided any relevant information, apart from that related to the detained South Korean national.
Seoul has urged Beijing against the deportation of North Korean defectors, many of whom risk their lives to cross the border into China before taking a safer route through Southeast Asia to arrive in the South. Seoul has a longstanding policy to accept any North Korean defector.
More than 22,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.