Canada Takes More North Koreans

The outflow from the Stalinist state hasn't let up.

2010-05-04
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Jang-Gil-su-305.jpg Drawing by a North Korean defector who fled his country in January 1999 at the age of 15.
Courtesy of Jang Gil-su

NOTE: Text updated 1215 EST 6 May to clarify precise number of North Koreans admitted to the United States.

WASHINGTON—Canada is admitting a growing number of refugees from North Korea, according to a recent official document.

The country report issued by the Immigration & Refugee Board of Canada, obtained by RFA on April 22, shows that 18 North Koreans were granted refugee status in Canada during the first three months of this year.

A further 74 applications from North Koreans were still in the pipeline, the document said.

Last year, 66 North Koreans were admitted, a 10-fold increase from 2008, and officials have said that this trend is likely to continue.

Peter Kent, minister of state for foreign affairs (Americas), said in a recent interview that the Canadian government is “fully aware of the appalling state of the human rights situation in North Korea” and will extend its full cooperation to grant refugee status in Canada to more North Koreans.

Rights resolution

The announcement comes after two legislators belonging to Canada’s opposition Liberal Party sponsored a resolution on the human rights situation in the isolated Stalinist state.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled poverty, hunger, and political oppression, most of them crossing the border initially to neighboring China, where they learn about life in other countries.

Some 16,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea, most in the last decade.

Fewer than 100 have ended up in the United States, however, in the six years since passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, which aimed to expedite the processing of North Korean refugees.

According to the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, & Migration, 25 North Korean refugees were admitted to the United States during the fiscal year Oct. 1, 2008-Sept. 30, 2009, while 37 were admitted during the same period a year earlier.

Twenty-two were admitted during the 2007 fiscal year and nine during the same period in 2006.

Along with the six North Koreans admitted during the current fiscal year, a total of 99 North Korean refugees have entered the United States since the passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004.

Canada has received 44 North Koreans who have been transferred from China or other third countries during the first quarter of this year, the report said.

This compares with 43 transfers of North Koreans from third countries during the whole of 2009, it said.

Group pressure

As well as pressure from Canadian members of parliament, the government is also probably responding to campaigns from international human rights organizations.

Canada will host a conference on democratic reform and human security in North Korea from June 4-6, according to Kyung Bok Lee, chairman of the Committee on Human Rights in North Korea.

He said the conference will be attended by Vitit Muntarbhorn, U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea, Suzanne Scholte, chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, and government officials, experts, and activists from South Korea, Europe, and Japan.

Western diplomats and rights groups estimate the number of North Koreans living in China at anywhere from tens of thousands to several hundred thousand, including a large number of women trafficked into China as “brides” or sex workers.

A smaller number of North Koreans have fled through China to third countries including Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Thailand, and Vietnam, usually hoping to reach South Korea.

South Korea accepts all North Korean defectors as citizens, and Seoul has admitted more than 10,000 North Koreans in  the last decade.

Original reporting for RFA’s Korean Service by Ahreum Jung. Korean service director: Bong Park. Translated from the Korean by Grigore Scarlatoiu. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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