SEOUL-A refugee care center near the Mongolian capital will offer shelter and assistance to any North Korean defectors who manage to make the dangerous journey through China, according to the head of a South Korean charity.
"Construction will be starting soon, so we need to secure a safe passage to transport them from China to Mongolia," Sung-ho Kim, executive director of the Rainbow Foundation, told RFA's Korean service. "As soon as the facility in Mongolia is ready, we should able to accommodate them."
Kim said his group had already been allocated 400,000 pyeong (1.3 square kms) of land at an unspecified location 40 kms outside Ulan Bataar by the Mongolian government,and had signed an agreement to open the center with the city's mayor.
"Almost all relief activities for North Korean defectors are presently on hold in China, and the condition is getting worse," Sung said. "At any rate, we cannot leave the situation as it is. If we abandon them, the defectors in China will soon be history."
The most conservative estimates by international rights observers and South Korean non-government groups put the number of North Korean defectors in hiding in China in the tens of thousands, while others say hundreds of thousands may be more accurate.
China regards North Koreans fleeing hunger and repression in the isolated Stalinist state as economic migrants to be repatriated under an agreement with Pyongyang. Defectors report frequent abuse from Chinese security forces, as well as being rounded up and sent back against their will to face imprisonment and possible execution.
Kim said for this reason, he was in the process of developing safe migration routes for North Koreans to pass through China and reach Mongolia, where they would be left alone by the authorities.
"There is no problem inside Mongolia, but the danger is a migration passage from China to Mongolia," Kim told RFA. "This is why I am making contacts with several people to develop safer migration passages."
The Rainbow Foundation was previously known as the South-North Public Welfare Movement, and had already begun to operate a farm in Mongolia, which the Rainbow Foundation would operate as a full-scale business venture.
Kim said a ceremony was held earlier this summer to mark the start of construction of the refugee facility, a two-storey building slated for completion in October 2005. When completed, the center will have space for 200 refugees.
The camp would be aimed at benefiting North Korean defectors who arrived in Mongolia, but would also aim to provide social care services for the poor, the elderly and children among the Mongolian population.
Kim said further fund-raising would be needed among religious groups and major companies in South Korea before the work could be completed, however.
Original reporting in Korean by Wonhee Lee. RFA Korean service director: Jaehoon Ahn. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.