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[Editorial] North Korean Refugees and North Korean Human Rights

[Editorial] North Korean Refugees and North Korean Human Rights

Posted July. 01, 2001 10:09,   


It is very fortunate that the 7 North Korean refugees, the Gil-Su`s family who had entered into the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing to request for the asylum in the South, safely arrived in Seoul.

The dramatic life of the Gil-Su family vividly illustrates the miserable state of the North Korean defectors in China. UNHCR reported that the number of the North Korean refugees in China reaches up to 30,000. Of course, the total number of the North Korean in China includes those who went to China simply to obtain food or those who illegally stay in China after visiting their relatives in China.

However, the North Korean refugees, who could not or would not return to the North for some reasons, have been suffering miserable lives. Their situation in China is far from the decent living condition for human beings. Out of thousands of refugees who mostly want to go to Seoul, only 300 North Korean refugees accomplished their dream.

The legal status of the North Korean refugees is in fact controversial. Based on the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, China has argued that the North Korean defectors, who fled from the North due to the North Korean economic situation but not by the political oppression, cannot be protected as refugees. However, the recent international trend takes it for granted that the refugee status has to be granted to those who fled from the economic suffering and the human right violation. The justification of the new trend is evident, considering the humanitarian concerns about the miserable lives of the North Koreans in China and the severe punishments waiting for them when they are returned to the North.

China has closely contacted with the North to settle quickly the issues of the Gil-Su family. It seems unclear to expect the future responses of both sides on the matter of the North Korean refugees. Hopefully, the incident of the Gil-Su family sets up a positive precedent to deal with such problems in the future.

The China and the North government have to acknowledge that the Gil-Su family incident has drawn the international attention to the matter of the North Korean defectors in China. The South government also has to pay its full efforts to resolve the problems related with the North Korean refugees in China. More concerns of the South government and the NGOs about the matter of the North Korean human rights are recommended.