Stop forcible repatriationThe Chinese government has arrested as many as 30 North Korean defectors in close cooperation with Pyongyang and will soon send them back to North Korea. Half of the refugees are believed to have relatives in South Korea. These families have appealed to the government and related agencies to prevent their loved ones from being repatriated. Some defectors are even pleading for the freedom to kill themselves in order to avoid being forcibly repatriated.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Amnesty International as well as our National Human Rights Commission and Park Geun-hye, head of the ruling Saenuri Party’s emergency council, demanded that Beijing not repatriate these people. And in a dramatic shift from its “quiet diplomacy” of the past, our government went so far as to express an official position against China’s inhumane practice.
Considering the ways it has dealt with people who flee their homeland in search of food and freedom, however, China will most likely send them back, buying time until the international uproar subsides. In October last year, too, China reportedly returned about 30 North Korean defectors to its “blood neighbor.” This time, however, the Lee Myung-bak administration should prevent a disastrous repetition of this inhumane practice by persuading China to fundamentally change its position on North Korean refugees.
The repatriation issue will emerge as a hot potato, domestically and internationally, as North Korean refugees living in South Korea increasingly make attempts to bring relatives who still live in the North or have already fled it to South Korea. Pyongyang’s attempt to obstruct these efforts cannot be justified. North Korean defectors should be encouraged to bring their relatives South, especially as Pyongyang is inflicting increasingly harsher punishments on those who are left behind, not to speak of the severe penalties for those who are repatriated to the North. Meanwhile, the number of North Korean refugees who opt to settle in Western countries, including the United States, is also on the rise.
Under the circumstances, the international community’s condemnation of the North’s barbaric actions will surely continue. Beijing has almost obsessively sided with Pyongyang on political, economic and diplomatic issues. But as far as the defector issue is concerned, China will find it more difficult than ever to adhere to its previous practice. Beijing must approach the issue in an entirely different manner.