U.S. a ‘Safe Haven’ for North Korean Refugees, Special Envoy Says

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Sept. 9, 2005: Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights. Photo: AFP/Jung Yeon-Je

WASHINGTON—The United States is a “safe haven for refugees fleeing the despotism of North Korea,” a senior U.S. diplomat said.

Speaking in an interview with RFA’s Korean service, U.S. Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea Jay Lefkowitz added, “We don’t have a specific number that we are looking at.”

“We are looking to help facilitate the passage of North Korean refugees into freedom. And to the extent that North Korean refugees would like to come to the United States, that is something that we want to make available.”

Most North Korean refugees would probably prefer to settle in South Korea, though, Lefkowitz said. “And that’s certainly understandable, and we would hope that every effort can be made to facilitate their passage there."

The question of human rights in North Korea is “very high” on the agenda of U.S. President Bush, said Lefkowitz, who was appointed special envoy in 2005.

Obviously, as long as there are millions of North Koreans who are suffering under really a most brutal dictatorship, it can’t be said that we have succeeded in our efforts entirely,

More work to be done

Lefkowitz also said that the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, passed unanimously by the U.S. Congress, has helped to raise international awareness of the issue. More needs to be done, though, Lefkowitz said.

“Obviously, as long as there are millions of North Koreans who are suffering under really a most brutal dictatorship, it can’t be said that we have succeeded in our efforts entirely.”

Lefkowitz said he hopes that in the near future a meeting can be held, either in New York or in Geneva, Switzerland, of “all of the special envoys who are focusing on these issues.”

Though President Bush has raised the issue of North Korean human rights directly with Chinese President Hu Jintao, tens of thousands of North Korean refugees in northeastern China are “living in great jeopardy as well,” Lefkowitz said.

“We are certainly very hopeful that the Chinese government will honor its commitment under international law in terms of treating these North Korean refugees.”

Lefkowitz called the South Korean government “quite helpful and positive” in its work with refugees from the north. He added that he hopes South Korea will also make clear its opposition to North Korea’s “actions with respect to human rights and with respect to other areas, such as nuclear activities, the counterfeiting of United States dollars, and trafficking in narcotics and people.”

“The Republic of Korea is one of the United States’ closest friends and allies,” he said.

Original reporting by Jaehoon Ahn and Changsop Pyon for RFA’s Korean service. Written in English for the Web by Richard Finney.


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