Activists concerned about the plight of North Koreans are holding demonstrations in front of Chinese embassies and consulates in several countries Thursday. They want Beijing to end what they term is a brutal policy of sending refugees back to North Korea. They say those repatriated face certain torture and imprisonment and, in some cases, execution.
Several dozen refugees from North Korea gathered outside China’s embassy in the South Korean capital to demand the safe resettlement of those, like themselves, who fled their homeland.
The demonstrators chant “Protect the North Korean refugees” and “Stop forced repatriation.”
Some activists waved banners accusing China of “aiding murder” and called on the country to respect international law as a member of the United Nations Security Council.
After 30 minutes, police informed the participants their event was illegal. The small demonstration quickly ended and people dispersed without incident. Among the defectors at the protest was Seo Jae-pyoung, secretary general of the Committee for the Democratization of North Korea. He says his 24-year-old nephew, suffering from tuberculosis, died in a Chinese refugee camp two weeks after being apprehended while crossing the Tumen River.
Seo says China, as the world’s number-two economic power and a country advocating peace and equality, needs to consider the plight of the North Koreans who are crossing the border with a “do or die” mentality.
Rights groups want China to allow the North Koreans to safely resettle, with the assistance of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
More than 20,000 North Koreans have made new homes in South Korea and other countries.
Activists say there are tens of thousands of North Koreans hiding in China. Most of them are women, who rights groups say also risk being victimized by sex traffickers in China.
Women are vulnerable in other ways says Peter Chung, a pastor who runs the organization Justice for North Korea.
Chung says children of mothers who are sent back to North Korea by Chinese police remain in China. They are being raised by people who do not have the financial resources or the physical ability to care for them. He says these children continue to be malnourished.
The North Korea Freedom Coalition, based in the U.S. state, Virginia, says it planned the coordinated international protest because Beijing has not responded to requests by several governments, including the United States and South Korea, to stop the forceful repatriation of the refugees.
Under an agreement between Beijing and Pyongyang, those entering China from North Korea are treated as economic migrants rather than refugees whose status is recognized by the United Nations.
Other activities planned Thursday to draw attention to the plight of the North Koreans include demonstrations in New York, Chicago, Toronto and Tokyo, film screenings in Mexico City and a prayer vigil in Los Angeles.
The Korean peninsula has been divided since a devastating three-year civil war in the early 1950’s that ended with a ceasefire, but no peace treaty. North and South Korea have no diplomatic relations.