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Rights Group Wants China to Release North Koreans

FILE - North Korean fishermen work from their boat in the Yalu River, as seen from Dandong in northeastern China's Liaoning Province, Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016.

A human rights organization wants China to "immediately disclose" the whereabouts of eight North Koreans refugees, including four women, who were detained in China in March.

Human Rights Watch said it believes the group that was randomly stopped in Shenyang, in northeastern China, is still in China. HRW wants Beijing to promise it will not return the refugees to North Korea, but will instead give them asylum or allow them to depart to a third country of their choice.

Phil Robertson, HRW's deputy Asia director, said, "By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong-Un's administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labor - and even worse."

Robertson urged Beijing to "respect its obligations under the Refugee Convention by protecting these eight North Koreans, and under no circumstances force them back to North Korea."

HRW said at least 41 North Koreans have been detained in China in the last nine months, including a teenager, a 10-year-old child and a pregnant woman. The rights organization said it believes at least nine of the 41 have been "forcibly returned' to North Korea.

The rights group said it does not have "reliable estimates" of how many North Koreans have been sent back to North Korea by China.

HRW said China forcing North Koreans back to North Korea where they face serious human rights violations or torture is "a practice forbidden by international treaties to which China is a party."