News

US Lawmakers Urge China to Change Course on N. Korean Defectors

A North Korean defector holds a banner during a rally for North Korean refugees who were repatriated by the Chinese government, in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. (2011 File)
A North Korean defector holds a banner during a rally for North Korean refugees who were repatriated by the Chinese government, in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. (2011 File)

China is facing growing calls to stop the repatriation of dozens of North Koreans who recently fled into China and are being held by authorities. China says it has the right to send them back, calling them "economic migrants."  But human rights activists say the detainees could face torture and execution, if they are returned to North Korea.

U.S. lawmakers held a hearing on Monday to highlight the urgency of the situation.

Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and head of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, said that in recent weeks Chinese authorities have detained dozens of North Koreans who have fled to China.

Smith said they will face dire consequences, if they return to North Korea.

"North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, has threatened to quote 'exterminate three generations' of any family with a member caught defecting from North Korea during the 100 day mourning period of the late Kim Jong Il.  And frankly, I believe him," said Smith.

Instead of sending them back to North Korea, as China has been done for years, U.S. lawmakers, human rights activists and two North Korean defectors are urging Beijing to take a different course.

In her testimony before the commission, North Korean defector Songhwa Han said the reason she fled North Korea many years ago for the first time was so she could feed her children.  Han said she crossed the waist-high waters of the Tumen River into China, carrying her malnourished seven-year-old daughter in a sack and holding her elder daughter's hand as they braved the icy currents.

Han said she was forcibly repatriated to North Korea four times, before finally escaping overseas.  

Han said repatriated North Koreans had to become animals to survive.  She said that after defectors were handed over to North Korean authorities, they were told they were dogs and that they were allowed only to look down at the ground.  Prisoners were chained to one another and were beaten with the butt of a gun, if they made any noise.

Her daughter, Jinhye Jo, also testified at the hearing.

Jo said it was hunger that led her family to flee North Korea, and that they had to contend with Chinese authorities searching for North Korean defectors and human traffickers.  

Jo said that when she thinks of what she endured while being held in North Korea, she fears it would be far worse for the dozens of North Koreans now being held in China once they are repatriated.

According to the State Department's 2010 human rights report, it is estimated that thousands of North Koreans are hiding in China.  Reports and testimonies of those who have been forcibly repatriated tell of beatings, torture, forced labor and sexual violence against those who are caught.

Suzanne Scholte, a human rights activist working on behalf of North Korean defectors, says China is prolonging the refugee crisis.

"China fears an increasing flow of refugees, if it allows refugees safe passage to South Korea.  But China's actions are ensuring that there will always be refugees by relieving Kim Jong Un of taking any measures that would improve conditions in North Korea," said Scholte. "North Koreans are fleeing North Korea out of desperation.  They know the considerable risks they are taking, and most North Koreans desire to return to North Korea once conditions improve."

In recent weeks, calls for China to stop its repatriation of North Korean defectors have increased, and South Korea has played a key role in drawing international attention to the issue.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has urged China to refrain from repatriating North Korean defectors if they are not involved in criminal activity.  Seoul has also raised the issue with a United Nations panel on human rights and in meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi in South Korea last week.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: John djang
March 06, 2012 5:24 PM
have sympathy on the refugees, hope my government to figure out better solutions.

by: Cả Thộn
March 06, 2012 2:06 PM
China is so afraid that another million NK to come if they accept refugees. But it is heartless to send those refugees back to die under Kim Young-un regime.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs