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US Senate Adopts Easier Terms for North Korean Refugees - 2003-07-09

The U.S. Senate has passed a measure that would make it easier for North Korean refugees to resettle in the United States.

The measure, which was approved by voice vote, aims to correct a legal technicality that makes it difficult for North Koreans to claim refugee status in the United States.

Under South Korean law, refugees fleeing repression and starvation in North Korea automatically receive South Korean citizenship. But that status makes them ineligible to claim refugee status in the United States.

Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, sponsored the measure, which is attached as an amendment to the State Department budget bill.

"There is an exodus of massive proportions taking place out of North Korea today," he said. "We do not know how many, some estimate as low as 30,000, as high as 300,000 North Koreans currently outside of North Korea, in China living off the land. South Korea cannot be expected to take all of these refugees fleeing China."

China considers North Korean refugees economic migrants, and refuses to grant them asylum.

Human rights groups say China repatriates such refugees back to North Korea, often to face harsh punishment, including torture and forced labor at prison camps.