12 defectors have not received passports

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12 defectors have not received passports

The South Korean government has restricted the issuance of passports for 12 North Korean restaurant workers who defected to the South in 2016, sources said Thursday, raising concerns about possible human rights violations.

The 12 women had been working at a restaurant in the eastern Chinese city of Ningbo and came to the South in April 2016. Their defection has generated controversy because some of them claim they were duped into coming to the South.

“Only Ho Kang-il, the manager of the Ryugyong restaurant, has had his passport issued,” an official at the Lawyers for a Democratic Society said. “Most of the workers have been denied passports without any reason.”

One of the workers, who is currently studying Chinese at a university in Seoul, reportedly gave up traveling to China because her request for a passport was denied.

The official said that the restaurant workers already filed a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission, but there has been no progress. “We are planning to file an administrative suit on the matter soon,” the official said.

Some critics say that the restriction might be linked to concerns over their possible return to North Korea. Controversy flared in May when restaurant manager Ho, in a JTBC interview, said he tricked the workers into defecting and that South Korea’s spy agency was involved.

The government in Seoul has claimed that the North Korean women defected to the South on their own will. The North has demanded their immediate return.

In a separate interview with Yonhap News Agency, Ho claimed that the South’s spy agency promised to help him open a restaurant in Southeast Asia and work with the waitresses, but the promise was not fulfilled.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, recently held a news conference in Seoul and called for an investigation into allegations that some of them unwillingly came here.

“It is clear that there were some shortcomings in regards to how they were brought to South Korea,” Quintana said. “From the information I received from some of them, they were taken to the Republic of Korea without knowing they were coming here.”

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