Global efforts to pressure China to treat North Koreans as refugees
By Kim Yoon-mi
A South Korean lawmaker, who has been waging a sit-in and hunger protest against China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, said that the Chinese authorities refused to issue her a visa for entry.
Rep. Park Sun-young of the minor conservative Liberty Forward Party had planned to visit the South Korean embassy in Beijing to be debriefed on the situation of the defectors on Tuesday. Park applied for a visa on Feb. 20.
China has rejected visa requests from South Korean lawmakers several times before, when diplomatic issues were raised between the two countries.
However, this is the first time that it did so to a member of the foreign affairs, trade and unification committee of the National Assembly, who has equal status to a diplomat, without a specific reason.
“It is regrettable that China made such decision,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Cho Byung-jae said in a press briefing.
South Korea’s parliament on Monday passed a resolution urging China to stop sending back North Korean defectors to the communist state.
In a plenary session, the National Assembly’s 154 lawmakers voted for the passage, while two others dropped out.
Submitted by Park and signed by 29 members of the foreign affairs, trade and unification committee members earlier, the resolution condemns China’s repatriation policy; urges Beijing to recognize North Korean defectors as refugees instead of economic migrants; and calls for stronger support from the international community for North Korean defectors.
However, Park criticized the Foreign Ministry, saying the ministry is not doing everything it can.
“The South Korean government has a long way to go. China doesn’t even mention this issue,” Park told The Korea Herald.
The international community is expected to mount pressure on China over the human rights of North Korean defectors.
The U.S. congressional-executive commission on China said it will hold a hearing on Thursday in Washington to address the North Korean defectors held by the Chinese authorities.
Witnesses include Suzanne Scholte, chairman and founding member of the North Korea Freedom Coalition; Han Song-hwa, a North Korean refugee detained in China, repatriated to North Korea and the detained in North Korea; Jo Jin-hye, another North Korean defector; and Roberta Cohen, chair of the board of directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
“The witnesses will discuss the factors driving North Koreans to flee to China and address the legality of China’s forced repatriations of North Koreans and relevant humanitarian concerns,” the commission said.
Separately on Monday in Geneva, South Korea raised the issue of North Korean defectors to address their human rights situation at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s high-level session.
It is the first time that the Seoul government mentioned China’s forced repatriation of North Korean defectors at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s meeting, although it indirectly referred to China by arranged the wording as “all countries directly concerned.”
“The Republic of Korea once again with its profound sincerity urges all countries directly concerned to uphold the principle of non-refoulement, thereby refraining from exposing those in a desperate situation to the risk of dire consequences,” said Kim Bong-hyun, deputy minister for multilateral and global affairs of the foreign ministry, during his keynote speech at the meeting.
“The issue of the asylum-seekers and refugees from the DPRK is not a matter of political consideration, but a matter of humanitarian and human rights consideration.”
The move came as up to 80 North Korean defectors held by the Chinese authorities are believed to be at the risk of repatriation, with the possibility of harsh punishment and even execution if returned home. Nine of them have reportedly been deported already.