US concern over N Korea refugees ‘returned by Laos’

BBC News - Asia

US concern over N Korea refugees ‘returned by Laos’

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30 May 2013 Last updated at 00:39 ET

This picture taken on May 29, 2013 shows an activist of a civic group for North Korean refugees holding up a placard during a rally urging China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors outside the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. PHOTO: AFP

The US says it is concerned by reports that China has repatriated nine North Korean refugees deported by Laos.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed Foreign Ministry officials, says the group were flown back to Pyongyang on Tuesday.

It said the group were detained in Laos earlier this month and handed over to China, despite Seoul’s appeals.

China traditionally repatriates North Korean refugees, ruling them economic migrants.

The nine North Koreans, aged between 15 and 23, left their country via China for Laos in April, Yonhap reported.

Laos authorities sent them to China on Monday – local reports said to Kunming – and they were put on an Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang on Tuesday, the agency said.

European Pressphoto Agency. North Korean defectors and human rights group activists shout during a rally against the government’s North Korean defectors relief policy in front of the Foreign Ministry building in Seoul on Wednesday.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry has not yet commented formally on the case.

But an unnamed ministry official told Yonhap news agency that South Korea had asked UN human rights agencies to help ensure the safety of nine refugees.

Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, accused both Laos and China of showing blatant disregard for the group’s welfare by returning them to North Korea.

“These three governments will share the blame if further harm comes to these people,” Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said.

In a statement, the US State Department urged “all countries in the region to co-operate in the protection of North Korean refugees within their territories”.

Most North Korean refugees leave via China and head for nations in South East Asia, from where they can get to South Korea – which provides financial assistance and training.

Last year, just over 1,500 North Koreans arrived in the South, official figures showed. Rights groups say refugees who are repatriated can face punishment and imprisonment.


One Comment to “US concern over N Korea refugees ‘returned by Laos’”

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