North Korean Defectors Find No Safety in China

China’s longstanding refusal to recognize North Korean refugees comes under new scrutiny in a New York Times Op-Doc video, “Escape from North Korea”. Ann Shin’s documentary reveals the perils that North Koreans face while passing through China on their way to seek refuge in South Korea.

These North Koreans risk their lives to escape into China, yet those who make it across the border are still not safe. As undocumented migrants, they are often exploited in China for their labor; many North Korean women are sex-trafficked and sold to Chinese men. Tens of thousands of North Korean defectors live secretly in China and Southeast Asia. [...]

[...] Under North Korean law, defection is a crime punishable by prison sentences of five years to life, and in certain cases the death penalty. Considering the grave risks that North Koreans take to escape their country, it is troubling that China and Laos, among other nations, do not offer them protection. [Source]

Although international law forbids the repatriation of refugees likely to face persecution in their home countries, China has continued to deport North Koreans. Last week, China was accused of sending back nine young orphans. From Justin McCurry at The Guardian:

The UN said it had “credible information” that China had sent the defectors back to North Korea last week, in violation of international law.

[...] “We are extremely concerned for the protection of this group, which includes up to five minors, who are at risk of severe punishment and ill-treatment upon their return,” a UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.

Under North Korean law, defectors face a minimum of five years’ hard labour, up to a life sentence in prison, or even the death penalty in very serious cases.

[...] “The high commissioner’s office is dismayed that the governments of Laos and China appear to have abrogated their non-refoulement obligations, especially given the vulnerability of that group, all of whom are reported to be orphans,” Del Buey said. [Source]

Read more on the repatriation of North Koreans caught in China via CDT.