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Thailand Arrests N. Korean Defectors

Posted August. 24, 2006 03:01,   


The Thai immigration office said on Wednesday that it is investigating 175 North Korean defectors who were staying in the country on the charge of illegal entry on the afternoon of August 22, local time.

Among the group are 39 men and 136 women, including children, pregnant women, physically challenged people, and heart disease patients. Sixteen were granted travel documents by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and had planned to take the plane to South Korea on the night of August 22.

No Deportation to the North-

The chief of immigration police, Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul, said on Wednesday, “The cases will be taken before a court within 48 hours, and the defectors may be deported to their home country.”

However, he had said just one day earlier right after the defected North Koreans were taken into custody, “We will not send them back to North Korea based on humanitarian grounds.” The Korean Embassy in Thailand said, “The Thai government will not deport them back to the North.”

Local sources say the country is currently home to 260 North Korean defectors. Two hundred thirty of them, including 175 who were arrested recently and others who are under incarceration in Thailand, desire to head for South Korea, and the other 30 want to go to the U.S.

Why North Koreans Flee to Thailand-

The Thai government has turned a blind eye to North Korean defectors’ illegal entry and their entry to a third country because of humanitarian reasons. Also, it maintains good relations with the Korean and U.S. governments, the defectors’ final destination.

A diplomatic source in Thailand said, “The number of North Koreans who sneak out of China to Thailand through Laos is rapidly increasing.”

The increasing number of North Korean defectors smuggling into Thailand who hope to go to the U.S. has led Ellen Sauerbrey, head of the program on population, refugee, and migration at the U.S. State Department, to visit Thailand next week to discuss the refugee issue.

The Thai authorities feel the burden of the increasing number of North Korean defectors, however. “Rumor has it that 100,000 defectors in China plan to enter Thailand through a neighboring country, which I think is very serious,” said Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul.

Pressure on the South-North Relation-

The Korean government is watching the recent development closely, predicting how the North Korean regime will respond to most of the defectors’ wanting to come to the South, since the already strained relation between the two Koreans after the North’s missile launches might worsen.

After 460 North Korean defectors came to South Korea en masse from Vietnam in July 2004, North Korea protested, suspending contact between the authorities for 10 months.

The number of North Korean defectors who come to South Korea goes up every year. The number from January to July of this year now stands at 1,054, up 59 percent from the same period last year.