The South Korean government has asked China not to repatriate 35 North Korean refugees that were arrested in several cities last week.
The group of North Korean nationals are currently being held at a camp in Shenyang province’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, and will be deported back to their communist homeland within two weeks. South Korea’s foreign minister Kim-Sung Hwan is urging China not to repatriate these defectors, since they may face harsh punishment ranging from torture to public execution upon their return.
Since the Korean War began in 1950, over 21,700 North Koreans have left their impoverished and hunger-stricken homeland for greener pastures. To escape their homeland, North Koreans often pass through China, before going to a third country that can help them get to South Korea via an “underground railroad” system.
In the meantime, they must hide underground in China to avoid being deported, because the Chinese government labels refugees as “economic migrants” and deports defectors. Life underground is difficult, and defectors must resort to poorly paid jobs and other exploitative arrangements in order to make enough money for the journey to South Korea.
Right now it is said that there are over 100,000 North Koreans in China, in search of a safe route to South Korea. This is an ongoing battle for defectors, and while many hope for China to show mercy, past pleas have fallen on deaf ears.
By Angela Ye