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The Scoop
June 22, 2012

China’s shameful treatment of North Korean refugees

by
Emily Dyer

Since North Koreans are strictly forbidden from even talking about change, untold multitudes express themselves in the only way open to them as North Koreans; through ‘voting with their feet’. Hundreds of North Koreans risk everything, even death, to escape the DPRK every year.

Those who manage the treacherous border crossing enter into either one of two UN Security Council member states; both signatories of the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and therefore both obligated under international law to allow the UN Refugee Agency – the UNHCR – to fulfil its role in protecting the human rights of North Korean refugees.

Russia, despite having a shameful human rights record, is compliant in allowing the UNHCR to interview, determine refugee status for, and help resettle North Korean refugees who cross the 6 mile border stretching between the two countries.

China, however, does not. Further still, a North Korean who is caught living in China is declared an ‘illegal economic migrant’ under Chinese law, and is forced to return to the DPRK, where they face forced labour, torture and execution in one of the North Korean prison camps.

North Korean women living in hiding from the Chinese police face rape, forced labour and/or being sold as a domestic partner for labourers and farmers and then often resold. Some North Korean women are resold as many as three or four times by the time they reach their mid-to late twenties. China’s legal environment provides a safe haven for sex traffickers as the human rights violations of North Koreans are not considered during China’s forced repatriation process.

This week the Henry Jackson society hosted Tim Peters, humanitarian aid worker and founder of Helping Hands Korea, in an AllPartyParliamentaryGroup on China’s policy of forced repatriation on North Korean refugees. He gave several real-life examples of women who were repatriated back to China, and the struggles their children faced having been ripped from their mothers and often left to survive by themselves.

On average, around 5000 terrified North Koreans are forcibly repatriated back to a situation that is often far worse from what they originally risked everything to flee from.

Peters urged countries who call themselves democracies to muster the political will to confront China’s outrageous and shameful human rights violations.

Emily Dyer

About Emily Dyer

Emily joined the Henry Jackson Society as a researcher in January 2012. She is currently researching women’s rights in Egypt having recently co-authored Al-Qaeda in the United States: A Complete Analysis of Terrorism Offenses. Emily previously worked as a Higher Executive Officer for the Preventing Extremism Unit at the Department for Education, where she wrote several papers on extremism within educational settings. Beforehand she was based at the Policy Exchange think tank. Emily has written for a broad range of publications including The Observer, The Telegraph, The Huffington Post, City AM, The Atlantic, CTC Sentinel and Standpoint magazine, largely on women’s rights in the Middle East, extremism, and human rights. Emily studied International Relations from the University of Birmingham, where she produced a First class dissertation on Islamic feminism in Iran, and has travelled widely within Syria and Turkey.

Full profile  |  See all of Emily Dyer's work