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Hurdles mount to N. Korean defectors’ Southeast Asian route

Hurdles mount to N. Korean defectors’ Southeast Asian route

Posted May. 29, 2013 07:11,   


In the wake of deportation by Laos of nine North Korean orphans to China, watchers raise concern that “North Koreans’ defection route through third party countries in Southeast Asia” could be more strictly controlled in the wake of this incident.

China frequently cracks down on North Korean defectors staying in China, while it only allows the departure of defectors in protective facilities run by South Korea after delays for several years. For this reason, North Korean defectors have been risking their lives and crossing the Chinese continent for a week to move to Southeast Asia, before seeking to enter South Korea.

Vietnam and Thailand are the countries in Southeast Asia that are the most cooperative in North Korean defectors’ entering into South Korea. After brief investigations at facilities accommodating illegal aliens, these countries have been handing over North Korean defectors to South Korean embassies. But after its approval of 468 North Korean defectors to move to South Korea via a chartered flight en masse was made public in July 2004, Vietnam changed its stance to become stern. Since then, North Korean defectors have been moving to Thailand through Laos and Myanmar, or seeking to directly head to South Korea from the two countries, when conditions are not conducive for them. If the detour route through Laos and Myanmar is shut off, North Korean defectors will have no way to move to Thailand, which has no border with China.

“The Laos route, which was known to be safe since it was less publicized, will significantly contract in the wake of the deportation,” said Do Hui-yoon, head of the Coalition of human rights for North Koreans. “It is shocking that North Korea even mobilized diplomats to repatriate kkotjebi (children without guardians) and that the Laos government allowed deportation even though there was no risk of intelligence leaks.”

“We rescued three North Korean defectors in 2007, when the Laos government’s bid to repatriate them to North Korea was made public. At the time, North Korea had to wait more than a month before it was to secure their custody, but this time the orphans have been repatriated promptly in a matter of 15 plus days,” said Kim Hui-tae, chief secretary at the coalition for North Korean human rights. “The Laos government repatriated one North Korean teenager to China last year. It is regrettable that the South Korean embassy failed to immediately intervene from the early days of the deportation incident.”

Producer Yang Seung-won of the general broadcasting cable Channel A, an affiliate of The Dong-A Ilbo, who followed 15 North Korean defectors across China and Laos in December last year and covered their stories, said, “We had intelligence that the Laos government does not allow organized defection of North Koreans.”