China Arrests Ten Defectors, Guide

Activists fear they will face persecution if repatriated to North Korea.

South Korean rights activists shout slogans outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul demanding that Beijing scrap plans to repatriate North Korean refugees, Feb. 21, 2012.

Chinese authorities have arrested 10 North Korean defectors and their guide, sparking fears that they could face persecution and even execution back home if repatriated, according to a source who assists refugees in China.

A woman in her 40s who gave her name as Kim, and who works in support of North Korean refugees in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern Jilin province, said the group encountered harsh weather conditions while trying to cross into Mongolia.

“Ten defectors were arrested by Chinese security police at the Sino-Mongolian border area last January,” Kim, who operates in Yanji city, told RFA.

Kim said that the members of the group had to turn back after losing their way due to heavy snowfall.

Chinese border guards were able to overtake them because the group included young children and the elderly, she said.

After landing in the hands of the authorities, Kim said, said the group was made to give up their guide.

“They were caught … the Chinese security police forced the defectors to call their guide … so they asked her to take them [somewhere],” Kim said.

“And when she went there, she was caught.”

She said that the 44-year-old guide was likely to face a harsh punishment at the hands of Chinese authorities because she had already spent two years in jail for assisting North Korean defectors in 2008.

It was unclear whether any of the 10 defectors had been returned to North Korea, where rights groups say they face the risk of being tortured or even executed by the hardline regime in Pyongyang.

Nearly 40 North Koreans were detained as they crossed the border into China in separate incidents in February, according to a U.S. nongovernmental group which has workers on the ground there to assist North Korean defectors. At least nine of them were repatriated to their homeland.

Three arrested

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that three North Korean defectors were arrested within China’s Henan province in mid-February.

Another activist who assists North Korean defectors in China told RFA that three defectors were arrested from the group in which she was working as they attempted to take a bus to the border and leave China.

“The guide said it could work … so we put them on board [a bus] and left. And on the way, the three were caught,” she said.

According to the activist, the three defectors were taken by Chinese security police while changing buses. Family members of the defectors have been unable to determine their current whereabouts.

She said Chinese authorities had begun a crackdown on North Korean defectors around the country since arresting a group of ten on Feb. 8 in northeastern Liaoning province’s Shenyang city.

Forced returns

News of the arrests have shed new light on the treatment of North Korean defectors in China, but the exact number of refugees within the country is unknown.

Beijing does not make official announcements about defectors, and human rights organizations working to assist them within the country operate in secrecy, so information about the situation is limited.

Rights group Amnesty International has said that if returned to North Korea, illegal border crossers typically face arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and forced labor.

They are also at risk of enforced disappearance in North Korea, Amnesty said.

Although China is a state party to the U.N. Refugee Convention, it has prevented the U.N. refugee agency, the UNHCR, from gaining access to North Koreans in the country.

China argues that North Koreans typically cross the border for "economic reasons," but rights groups have said that Beijing's claim holds no merit.

More than 21,700 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950-1953 war, the vast majority in recent years. They typically escape on foot to China, hide out, and then travel to a third country to seek resettlement in the South.

Reported by Young Jung for RFA’s Korean service. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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Apr 18, 2012 02:29 PM

It is time to boycott all Chinese products, until the Chinese government stops sending defectors back to North Korea. We must begin to paralyze the Chinese economy.