A dereliction of dutyTen North Koreans caught by Vietnamese authorities and deported back to China were re-arrested last Friday after trying to enter Vietnam again. The would-be defectors included a teenager, two in their 20s and seven women with ages ranging from their 20s to their 50s. They hid around the border after they were kicked out on Thursday and tried to cross the border early in the morning.
Instead of just kicking them out, the Vietnamese authorities decided to directly hand them over to Chinese police. However, the deportation was stopped after some of them passed out. They are bound to be deported back to North Korea and face harsh punishment once they arrive.
The defectors asked for help from the South Korean embassy in Vietnam when they were arrested by the Vietnamese authorities on Nov. 23. Seoul could have stopped the deportation if it worked hard, as Vietnamese Prime Minister was in South Korea at the time for the Asean special summit in Busan. A North Korean human rights group claimed that the South Korean embassy had not returned their calls or even paid them a visit. “The embassy told them not to inform the media of the case and only to stay there,” the group complained.
Despite its “People First” slogan, North Koreans have repeatedly been forced back to their country under the Moon Jae-in administration. Three defectors caught in Vietnam were deported to China in April. Two out of the four fishermen who landed in Samcheok port in June were handed over to North Korea after it was concluded that they did not wish to stay in the South after just a few hours of questioning. Two fishermen who crossed the maritime border last month also expressed wishes to defect to the South, but nevertheless were repatriated. The move took place after Moon sent North Korean leader Kim Jong-un a letter inviting him to the South Korea-Asean special summit in Busan.
Even if they live in North Korea, North Koreans are defined as South Korean citizens, according to our Constitution. If they flee North Korea, the government has the duty to protect them and help them safely reach their final destination. The government is doing serious wrong if it is not doing its part in fears of irking Pyongyang officials. The foreign minister must answer to the incident and promise not to repeat this cruel behavior.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 2, Page 34