North Korean Refugees Head For Europe


2006-02-28
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Jan. 27, 2003: North Korean asylum seekers arrive at Incheon International airport in South Korea. Photo: AFP

WASHINGTON—Increasing numbers of defectors from North Korea are finding their way to Europe, recent statistics show.

Seven Western European countries including Germany, Britain, Denmark, and Sweden have granted political asylum to a total of about 280 North Korean escapees since the late 1990s, according to the European Union statistical service Eurostat.

A further 700 North Koreans have applied for political asylum.

Statistics went unnoticed

Officials in charge of asylum applications in Germany told RFA’s Korean service that 455 North Korean people had applied for asylum status from 1995-2005. Germany had granted 232 requests for asylum and declined 163, they said.

According to Eurostat, the British government granted asylum or equivalent status to 25 North Koreans between 2004 and 2005, declining roughly 50 applications. In addition to this, Denmark gave asylum status to seven North Koreans, Netherlands and Belgium each granted six, Sweden five and Norway two, during the last 10 years.

It was hard to survive in North Korea.

North Korean applications are rarely included in official immigration statistics because their number is too small.

In Britain, North Korean applicants have increased since 1998, and the number of applications reached about 30 in both 2004 and 2005. The British government made decisions on a total of roughly 85 North Korean asylum cases in 2004-2005.

The Swedish government also dealt with close to 35 applications in January and February of 2005, according to Eurostat.

“It was hard to survive in North Korea,” a 22-year-old defector surnamed Kim, who arrived in Belgium in Feb. 2005, told RFA in a recent interview. “My father passed away, leaving me no relatives. So I was afraid I would die.”

Underground railroad

Like most defectors, Kim’s first port-of-call after leaving his homeland was China, where South Korean missionaries and clandestine networks combine to take North Koreans on a dangerous “underground railroad”-style journey to a third, fourth, or even fifth country.

Some pass through Vietnam and Thailand on their way to South Korea, while others spend time in Mongolia awaiting resettlement, according to interviews with missionaries working with North Koreans throughout Northeast and Southeast Asia, and with successful defectors in South Korea.

Activists also believe that many North Korean asylum-seekers may be hiding in France.

Original reporting in Korean by Yang Sungwon. RFA Korean service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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