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China, Koreas: Netizens Express Humanitarian Concern Over North Korean Refugees

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

Since February 8, 2012, the Beijing government has arrested more than 20 North Korean refugees whom it plans to repatriate.

The news has been widely reported in South Korea, prompting President Lee Myung-bak to demand that the Chinese government deal with the refugees in accordance with international standards. Lee also promised to provide citizenship to the refugees, and is prepared to raise the issue with the United Nations.

An online petition to UN was set up last week with Change.org, and the UN Refugee Agency has also urged [zh] Beijing to process the North Korean refugees in a humanitarian manner.

North Korean refugees in China. Photo from Change.org

North Korean refugees in China. Photo from Change.org

The spokesperson of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), however, has argued [zh] that the “North Korean runaways” are not refugees, and that they entered Chinese territories illegally for economic reasons. While extreme nationalists support the government's foreign policy, many concerned Chinese citizens have criticized Beijing for being an accomplice to the murder of innocent civilians, if the refugees are to be deported back to North Korea.

Weibo user ‘Freedom of Speech 85′ posted some background information [zh] on the consequences for those in North Korea who attempt and fail to flee:

言论自由85:据考证,脱北者脱北失败后会受到严厉的惩罚。如送去集中营羁押受虐,甚至被判为“叛 朝鲜国罪”而受到极刑,其在北韩家庭往往也受到牵连。因此联合国敦促中国政府停止遣返难民,给与他们难民身份。根据2005年的一个消息来源,60%到70%的在华脱北者是女性,其中70%到80%成为人口贩卖的受害者。

According to existing evidence, North Korean runaways will face very serious punishment. Most are sent to a concentration camp while some face torture under the accusation of “treason”. Even their family members will suffer from political persecution. This is why the United Nations has urged the Chinese government to stop repatriating refugees and to give them protection. A source back in 2005 shows that 60-70% of North Korean runaways are female, and 70-80% of those end up the victims of human trafficking.

Shanghai resident Ms. Chen points out that [zh] the destination of North Korean runaways is South Korea, another reason why the Chinese government should not send them back to the North:

程蕤姐:脱北者"是为什么才离开朝鲜?稍微懂点政治的人都明白!为什么我国要把朝鲜难民送回必死无疑的地方!世界上除了朝鲜'别人枪都是打偷偷非法私进国界线的'朝鲜是自己人民偷偷靠近国界就开枪!其实绝大多数的"脱北者"来中国只是为了借道去韩国!中国的官员知道这个女人和孩子走到门另一边的下场么!

Why do all these North Koreans choose to leave? Anyone with a bit of political sense can understand why. Why does our government insist on sending them back to a place where they would be murdered? Unlike all other countries in the world which stop illegal immigrants from entering, North Korea kills its own people from even approaching the border. Most North Korean runaways come to China as a way to enter South Korea. Chinese government officials know what the consequence will be of sending these women and kids back to the other side.

Extreme nationalists from the Tiexue (“Iron Blood”) forum, however, support the Beijing government in repatriating the refugees from a strategic point of view [zh]:

(一)中国不会以牺牲朝鲜为代价取悦韩国。中国和韩国、朝鲜都保持战略合作关系。从维护东北亚安全稳定的角度看,朝鲜比韩国更重要。

1. China should not sacrifice North Korea to please South Korea. China should maintain strategic cooperation with both the North and the South. From the perspective of the security and stability of Northeast Asia, relations with North Korea are more important than with the South.

(二)中国边境地区不可能成为一个国家对付另外一个国家的战略飞地。中国一向反对某些国家为别国的分裂主义势力提供政治庇护和活动场所。“脱北者”不是难民,而是有着“梦想”的主动的叛逃者。中国是主权独立国家,任何外国公民进入中国,都必须得到中国的同意。对待非法越境者,按照国际法准则,中国当然一要暂扣,二要劝返,从那里来回到哪里去。否则,必然会导致中国“有边无界”,主权利益受损,且引起当事国的不满,引发不必要的国际争端,对中国有百害而无一利。

2. China should not turn its border region into a strategic base for another country. The Chinese government has always been against intervention into other countries’ separatist movements. “North Korean runaways” are not refugees, they have merely fled their own country with a “dream”. China as an independent sovereign country has control over its border, all entry has to be approved. According to international practice, in dealing with illegal immigrants, the Chinese government can detain them and send them back to their own countries. Or else, we would lose control over our border and cause international disputes. It would be harmful to our national interests.

(三)真正的国际人道主义不是格外关注“脱北者”,而是要支持朝鲜稳定、取消对朝鲜的封锁和制裁。

3. Genuine international humanitarianism is not to give exceptional concern to the “North Korean runaway” but to support the stability of North Korea by lifting foreign economic sanctions.

Yet, a lot more ordinary Chinese citizens are speaking from a humanitarian point of view. Below is a selection of comments [zh] in the news thread of the MFA's press conference on Sina Weibo:

哥1985:中国遣返脱北者违反人道。想想文革前后的历史吧,遣返以后他们还有生的可能吗?
元宝天成:那些脱北者九死一生的跑到你这里来,不管吃不管住,你多少要可以有点同情心。大家都是人,不要为了讨好那个胖子,让我们再蒙羞了。
Eremita-L:把叛逃者遣送回去等同于亲手杀了他们。

哥1985:The repatriation of North Korean runaways is inhumane. Just recall the history of the Cultural Revolution: can they still survive upon repatriation?

元宝天成:The North Korean runaways risked their lives to come here. Even if you don't feed them, you should sympathize with them. We are all human beings. Don't bring shame upon us just to please the tiny fatty (Kim Jong-un).

Eremita-L:To send the runaways back is like killing them with your own hands.

This post is part of our special coverage on Refugees.

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