Up to 2000 North Koreans could be tortured after repatriation from China

Up to 2000 North Koreans could be tortured after repatriation from China

The pandemic offered temporary reprieve as North Korea further sealed itself off from the world to keep the virus out.

But this week, as the reclusive regime slowly began to reopen the border by resuming flights and allowing buses to reenter, it appeared that time was running out for fearful refugees.

Salmon is reported to be “closely monitoring” the situation and, along with South Korea, has raised concerns about repatriation with China.

“The declaration of the end of COVID-19, welcomed by people around the world, could be terrible news, like a prelude to death, for North Korean escapees detained in China,” said Choe Jae-hyeong, a member of South Korea’s national assembly.

“North Korea is known for operating one of the world’s most notorious political prison camps,” he added, warning that returnees were at risk of dying from malnutrition, disease or execution, and faced sexual assault, forced abortion and forced labour.

In August, South Korea’s Unification Ministry urged China to abide by United Nations treaties and international law to protect refugees, rather than treat them as illegal immigrants. It said it would accept any North Koreans seeking shelter.

“The forcible repatriation of people against their will is a violation of the spirit and principle of the international law that bans it,” said Kim Yung-ho, the unification minister.

A North Korean soldier looks across the border with China.Credit: AP

Just days later, it was reported by American media that China had rejected South Korea’s request, although the unification ministry had not been formally informed of this.

The Chinese government routinely labels fleeing North Koreans “illegal economic migrants” but it is hoped the upcoming Asian Games in Hangzhou may make the authorities more sensitive to international opinion.

The Chinese embassy in London said: “The Chinese government attaches great importance to and protects the legitimate rights and interests of foreign citizens in China in accordance with the law.”

It added that it “always properly handles the illegal entry of the DPRK citizens in accordance with domestic and international laws and on humanitarian grounds,” referring to North Korea’s official name – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The terrible dangers faced by defectors if they fail to escape have been well-documented by rights groups like the Database Centre for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB).

The Seoul-based NKDB has recorded 8125 cases of forced repatriation of North Koreans and 32,198 cases of human rights violations inflicted on them.

These include an account of Song Hyun-ju, a young man who believes his 22-year-old sister Song Geum-ju was tortured to death in 2009.

The siblings had been arrested while trying to climb over a border fence between Inner Mongolia and China and were handed over to the North Korean security services.


Mr Song described how he was tortured with handcuffs and wooden chairs. The official reason for his sister’s death was “nephritis”, or kidney inflammation, but he told human rights researchers that “I am sure she died because of the pain that came with the torture”.

The Telegraph, London

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