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US Congressman: China Should Treat North Korean Defectors as Refugees

The co-chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Human Rights Commission, has told VOA that China is seriously infringing on the human rights of North Korean defectors by sending them back to their homeland.

U.S. Representative James McGovern spoke to VOA's Korean service Wednesday. He said Chinese officials realize North Koreans sent back home face a dismal fate.

McGovern said China should allow the defectors to apply for refugee status and that the United States and the international community should make the issue a top priority. He said China must face repercussions for what he called Beijing's disregard of human rights.

North Korea on Tuesday accused South Korea of abducting North Korean citizens who travel to neighboring countries for personal or economic reasons.

On Monday, scores of human rights activists, including North Korean defectors, demonstrated in Seoul in front of the Chinese embassy, demanding that China stop forced repatriations. They joined South Korean parliamentarian Park Jin in calling on China to treat the defectors as refugees, a status that would protect them from forced repatriation.

The scuffles came after South Korean activist Do Hee-yun accused Beijing last week of forcibly returning 31 North Koreans who had crossed the border into China. Do and defectors who have made it to South Korea say those who are repatriated are likely to be punished severely for attempting to defect.