We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Human right activists march toward the Laotian Embassy in Seoul earlier this week, demanding that Laos guarantee the safety of the nine North Korean asylum seekers. Ahn Young-joon/AP
North Korea

China and Laos criticised for sending refugees back to North Korea

The United Nations says China and Laos have disregarded their international duty to care for the orphaned refugees.

THE UNITED NATIONS has criticised China and Laos, arguing that the countries have disregarded their international commitments by sending nine young asylum seekers back to North Korea.

“We are extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who are at risk of severe punishment and ill treatment,” said Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights.

“We are dismayed that the governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of this group, all of whom are reported to be orphans,” Colville told reporters in Geneva.

‘Refoulement’ is the term used under international law for unjustly sending a refugee home.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was “very concerned” by the forced repatriation.

“We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories,” she told reporters.

“We do remain very concerned about their well-being, and we’re monitoring it closely,” she said.

The nine people, arrested in Laos three weeks ago, were returned to China on Monday and flown back to North Korea the following day.

NK defectors usually go south via China

North Korean defectors traditionally try to make the journey to South Korea by first heading to China and then proceeding onwards from other countries. Laos previously had been seen as a relatively safe transit point.

“We urge the Chinese and Laotian authorities to publicly clarify the fate of the nine young North Koreans, as well as the conditions under which they were returned,” Colville said.

He also urged North Korea to allow independent monitors immediate access to the group.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un is believed to have tightened border controls since he came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-Il in December 2011.

The number of refugees arriving in South Korea plunged more than 40 per cent, to 1,508 last year.

“The situation of returnees to North Korea has been a constant source of concern for many years. They can receive very severe punishment merely because they have left the country,” Colville said.

“Before anyone is sent back, we need to assess their asylum claim, and ensure they will be secure if they are sent back. That’s a process that should be gone through, rather than some summary return,” he said.

Dan McNorton, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for refugees, said his agency was “gravely concerned” for the group’s safety.

“All countries should refrain from any measures, directly or indirectly, that lead to the return of a person to a country where his or her life will be threatened,” he told reporters.

- © AFP, 2013

Read: North Korea gives US citizen 15 years’ hard labour for ‘hostile acts’

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.