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30 N. Korean Asylum Seekers Allowed to Leave China - 2002-09-11

More than 30 North Korean asylum seekers have been allowed to leave China for South Korea. Scores of North Koreans have sought asylum in foreign embassies and consulates throughout China this year, causing diplomatic headaches for the Chinese government.

A German embassy official, who asked not to be identified, says 15 North Koreans who sought refuge for more than a week in a German government school left Beijing Wednesday morning for Seoul via a third country.

A diplomat at the South Korean Embassy says another group of about 21 asylum seekers are leaving China as well.

Erica Kang, a coordinator for the North Korean refugee aid group in Seoul, Good Friends, says the refugees are trying more and more ways to evade Chinese authorities and to gain safe passage to Seoul via foreign embassies in China. "The Chinese security is formally cracking down on North Korean refugees, trying to reduce the number as much as possible," she said. "But certainly this is actually telling that the North Korean refugee situation in China is not getting any better at all."

Ms. Kang says tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled to neighboring China, escaping famine and persecution at home.

At least 80 North Koreans have sought asylum at foreign diplomatic compounds in Beijing and northeast China this year.

Beijing, which considers the North Koreans illegal economic migrants, has a treaty with ally, Pyongyang, requiring they be repatriated. But China, which is in a difficult diplomatic situation, has allowed most of those who enter foreign missions to leave China for South Korea via a third country.

China has responded to the surge of asylum-seekers at embassies and consulates by carrying out mass arrests of North Koreans living here illegally. Beijing has also increased security in its embassy districts, by putting up barbed wire fences and stationing more armed guards at entrances to embassy compounds.