A North Korean mother and child arrested with other defectors by Chinese police last weekend in Shenyang risk torture and abuse if they are forcibly sent home, the woman’s husband said from South Korea while calling on Chinese authorities not to repatriate his family.
The woman and her four-year-old son were part of a larger group of ten picked up by police ten days after fleeing across the border from North Korea, and had moved from one shelter to another before being detected by authorities.
Speaking by phone to RFA’s Korean Service on Thursday, the woman’s husband and child’s father, using the pseudonym Tae Won Lee, urged his wife not to lose hope while detained.
“I am always praying that we will meet again one day,” Lee said. “I ask the Chinese government not to send them back.”
Lee, who fled North Korea ahead of his family two and a half years ago, said he is especially concerned for the fate of his son.
“He may not be killed if he is returned, but if he is sent to a political prison camp, he may never be able to leave again during his lifetime.”
“Please do not send them back. Please help them to come to South Korea,” Lee said.
Lee said he has spoken several times to the South Korean consulate in Shenyang city in China’s Liaoning province bordering North Korea, but was told there is little they can do to help.
“They said that they cannot go to where my family is being held,” he said, adding, “All they can do is ask that they will be treated humanely.”
Speaking to RFA on Friday, Phil Robertson—deputy director of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch—said that China should immediately recognize the detained ten North Koreans as refugees.
Despite the documented risks of torture and persecution faced by North Koreans sent back by China, China continues to forcibly repatriate families trying to flee to safety, Robertson said.
“I call on the Chinese government to stop repatriating North Korean refugees, starting with these ten, based on the U.N. Refugee Convention that China has signed,” Robertson said.
The rate of forced returns has dramatically increased over the last year, with 51 North Koreans detained in China from July 2016 to June 2017, and another 49 detained from July to September of this year alone, according to Human Rights Watch.
Also speaking to RFA, UK-based North Korean defector Jihyun Park said she has spoken to the BBC broadcasting service and to the newspaper the Telegraph, hoping to raise awareness of the detained North Koreans’ situation.
“Two years ago, the body of a three-year-old Syrian refugee boy washed up on [a European] shore, and this drew international attention to the Syrian refugee crisis.”
“Now, I would like to see the world pay more attention to the problem of the forced return of North Korean refugees from China,” she said.
Reported and translated by Hee Jung Yang for RFA’s Korean Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.