10 North Korean defectors may face forced return to regimeA group of 10 North Korean defectors, including a 3-year-old child, are reportedly being detained in Liaoning Province, China, where they may be sent back to the North.
The South Korean consulate in Shenyang, Liaoning, revealed Sunday that it had received a report from another defector living in China who said that the group had been on their way to South Korea and were hiding near Shenyang when they was apprehended by Chinese police, along with their guide, at around 5 p.m. on Saturday.
This defector requested help so that the group would not be deported back to North Korea.
The defector added that the group included a person over 60 and members of his family from Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, located across the border from China’s Jilin Province, separated by the Tumen River.
The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it will reach out to Chinese authorities to confirm whether the report is true, and that if it is, it will request a humanitarian response rather than forced deportation back to North Korea.
Chinese authorities have said that thus far there has been no official report on the issue, but that it would look into the matter.
Chinese authorities have recently cracked down more severely on North Korean defectors.
Human Rights Watch said that in September, based on reports by activists and family members, there were at least 41 detentions of North Koreans in China, including a teenager, a 10-year-old and a woman who was seven months pregnant.
At least nine defectors, according to the New York-based nongovernmental organization, were forcibly repatriated to North Korea. Defectors returned to North Korea can face severe punishment, including execution.
The South Korean government has emphasized the principle of non-refoulement, a cornerstone of asylum and refugee law banning the forceful return of refugees to countries where they might be persecuted.
China is party to the 1951 United Nations refugee convention, which includes the principle of non-refoulement, but has frequently deported North Korean defectors in the past.
Local activists pointed out that border security was strengthened ahead of China’s 19th party congress last month, and one local source said, “The troops’ patrol and inspection of the borders became thorough, narrowing room for defectors to move around.”
BY YEH YOUNG-JUNE, PARK YU-MI [firstname.lastname@example.org]