Seoul urges Beijing to send North Koreans held in China to South Korea instead of repatriating them

Seoul urges Beijing to send North Koreans held in China to South Korea instead of repatriating them

Unification minister stressed importance of labeling these defectors as 'refugees' rather than 'illegal immigrants,' emphasizing need to apply non-refoulment principle

By Alperen Aktas

ISTANBUL (AA) – South Korea on Wednesday urged Beijing to “cooperate” by not sending back North Koreans arrested in China after escaping their homeland, emphasizing their status as "refugees."

Speaking at a seminar in Seoul, Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho expressed his concerns that if Pyongyang lifts its border restrictions with China after years of self-imposed COVID-19 measures, China may forcibly repatriate a large number of North Korean defectors against their will.

"North Korean defectors in China should be granted humane treatment in accordance with international standards, and (they should also) be also able to enter countries that they are hoping to go to, including South Korea," Seoul-based Yonhap News quoted Kim as saying.

The minister stressed the importance of labeling these defectors as "refugees" rather than "illegal immigrants," emphasizing the need to apply the non-refoulment principle.

He also urged Beijing to cooperate on "the detention of North Korean defectors in China and their forced repatriation."

He stressed Seoul’s “willingness” to welcome all North Korean defectors aspiring to relocate to the South.

The Seoul-based Database Center for North Korean Human Rights reported a total of 8,148 cases of North Korean defector repatriation, with almost 98% of these cases involving China sending them back to the North.

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