A major human rights group urges China to stop rounding up illegal North Korean migrants and shipping them home to face possible persecution or even execution. A new Amnesty International report says at least 1,400 North Koreans have been nabbed in a recent crackdown in northeastern China.
Amnesty International says that the refugees pushed back across the border into North Korea face "an uncertain fate", which could include "imprisonment, torture, and in some cases, summary execution."
China has a treaty obligation to send illegal migrants home to North Korea, and Beijing declares them economic migrants, not political refugees. But in a just-released letter to Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Amnesty says China also has an obligation under an international convention to give migrants access to a "fair and independent" refugee determination procedure under the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Beijing's hard-nosed policy may be driven in part by fears of encouraging a flood of migrants across the border.
Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said Beijing deals with illegal migrants fairly. He said China follows Chinese and international laws in a "humanitarian spirit," which he said means the issue will be resolved "in the interest of these people."
Human rights groups say up to 300,000 North Koreans have crossed into China, fleeing starvation and a brutal government at home.
This year, dozens of refugees have rushed past guards into embassies and consulates across China, where they ask for political asylum and passage to South Korea. China has allowed 38 of them to leave the country.
But a new, tougher Chinese policy may have closed that exit. Nearly two dozen asylum-seekers are sheltering inside South Korean and Canadian diplomatic facilities, some of them have been there for nearly a month. China says they should be turned over to police, not sent to South Korea.