Posted February. 15, 2012 23:55,
Updated January. 01, 1970 09:00
Human rights group Amnesty International urged China Wednesday to protect North Korean asylum seekers who were recently arrested in China.
The plight of the detained is even more precarious in the wake of a January announcement by North Korean authorities condemning border-crossers and threatening them with harsh punishment. The country is undergoing a leadership transition after the death of Kim Jong Il and the succession of his son Kim Jong Un in December 2011, the organization said.
Chinese authorities must enable these 21 North Koreans to seek asylum in China and other countries, and provide them with access to the U.N. refugee agency or other relevant refugee channels, said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty Internationals Asia-Pacific director.
The Global Times, an English-language newspaper published by China`s People`s Daily, as well as Western media carried summaries of The Dong-A Ilbos Wednesday article on the plight of North Korean defectors. The Global Times quoted Dong-A as saying that if the defectors are repatriated, Pyongyang will kill three generations of their families.
Chinese Internet users have begun to post articles urging their government not to send the defectors back to North Korea. Isnt killing three generations of a refugees family too cruel? one user said, while another asked, Cant North Korea have humanity? On Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, one user noted, Under the current human rights situation in North Korea, repatriating the refugees is the same as murdering them. Another Weibo user urged the Chinese government to send them to South Korea.
Yet Beijing has remained silent on the issue. The South Korean Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry has asked China not to repatriate the defectors but the Chinese government confirmed no information on them. China said it is "checking out" the situation in apparently resorting to its usual tactic of dragging its feet. Whenever North Korean defectors are arrested in China, Beijing remains silent until after repatriating them to North Korea and public attention is drawn to other issues.
Kim Hee-tae, head of a South Korean group on North Korean human rights, claimed that when South Koreans protested Chinas plan to repatriate 35 defectors in late September last year, Beijing kept them at a concentration camp in Tumen near the border with North Korea for more than two months. China waited until public opinion died down before finally sending them back to North Korea.
Chinese public security officials who arrested 21 defectors last week first allowed their relatives in South Korea to have phone calls with them. The officials have since refused to confirm the location of the arrested escapees. Given Chinas attitude in dealing with defectors, they are believed to be under investigation at an undisclosed place in China. Beijing, which had initially planned to repatriate them before Feb. 20, is expected to reschedule the repatriation due to mounting public outcry.
China has generally treated arrested defectors in two ways. Those arrested accidentally are handed over to a concentration camp in Tumen or Dandong after undergoing basic interrogation, while those caught after a chase are sent to a public security bureau that originally requested the arrest.
China apparently sent two groups of defectors to Yanji and Changchun because public security authorities in the two cities first noticed them and began operations for their arrest. Those sent to the cities undergo thorough questioning on their routes and relationship with their helpers and brokers. Once the interrogation is over, they are sent to a concentration camp in border areas, where they will wait until a certain number of North Koreans are gathered for repatriation. The waiting period is known to be shorter in Dandong than in Tumen.