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More North Koreans Reach South Korea Through China - 2002-10-12

Another 20 North Korean refugees have made the journey through China and into South Korea. This group is just the latest in a steady stream of northerners who have fled their homeland, and forced their way into diplomatic compounds in China.

The 20 North Koreans arrived at Seoul's Inchon airport after a brief transit stop in Manila. The five men and 15 women looked nervous but relieved, and said they were happy to have arrived in the South.

They will be housed in government-provided quarters, and will be given jobs, money and training for their new life in South Korea.

The refugees are part of a growing number of defectors who have sought refuge in diplomatic compounds in China this year, after fleeing food shortages and political repression in their homeland. So far around 140 North Koreans have made it to the South this year using this method.

South Korean officials say the total number of North Koreans who have made it into South Korea by one route or another this year is more than 800. Officials expect that figure to rise to more than a thousand before the year is out.

Beijing has a treaty with Pyongyang to repatriate all North Korean refugees, but as far as is known, the Chinese have eventually allowed all those who have made it into diplomatic compounds to leave for South Korea. For appearance's sake, the refugees are routinely sent via a third country.

At the moment, three North Koreans are still in the German embassy in Beijing. The Chinese foreign ministry says it is negotiating with the German government on their fate. And South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports that a North Korean woman and her teenage daughter entered the South Korean consulate-general in the Chinese city of Qingdao on Thursday, also seeking refuge in the South.

No one knows for sure how many refugees are crossing the land border from North Korea into China, but diplomats and international aid agencies estimate the figure this year may be as high as 300,000. China carries out periodic crackdowns on the refugees, and on those those who seek to assist them.