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Congressional commission holds emergency hearing, urges China to protect N. Korean defectorsBy Yonhap
Published : June 14, 2023 - 09:10
The Congressional Executive Commission on China held an emergency hearing in Washington on Tuesday to urge China to fulfill its obligations as a United Nations member and protect North Korean asylum-seekers.
Members of the commission and key witnesses argued that nearly 2,000 North Korean defectors in China may face forced repatriation once North Korea reopens its border with China, which has been shut during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Close to 2,000 North Korean refugees are reportedly held in detention centers near the China-North Korea border," Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the executive commission on China, said.
"Once North Korea lifts its COVID-19-imposed border closure policy, these refugees will likely face forced repatriation, despite the Chinese government's international obligation to protect asylum-seekers," he added in his opening remarks.
The special hearing comes amid speculation that North Korea may lift its border closure imposed by the pandemic.
Pyongyang announced earlier this month it has adopted a new law designed to beef up inspections of export and import goods, further fueling the speculation that it may soon reopen its border with China.
"There are credible rumors that the North Korea-China border will reopen soon because North Korea, which is facing more starvation reminiscent of the Arduous March, must increase exports to, and imports from, China," noted Suzanne Scholte, president of Defense Forum Foundation, a nonprofit human rights activist group based in Virginia.
"The terrifying fear for all of us human rights advocates is that China's first export to North Korea will be the nearly 2,000 North Korean children, women and men currently detained, at least half of whom are believed to have been attempting to reach South Korea," Scholte added, according to her statement released by the commission.
Robert King, former US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, highlighted that the number of North Korean defectors reaching South Korea had averaged 1,100 a year between 2017 and 2019, but that the number had dropped drastically to 229 in 2020, and again to 63 in 2021 and 67 last year.
"Chinese government agencies carefully guard entrance to and exit from China. North Koreans who enter China illegally are apprehended and imprisoned in China. They are not permitted to leave China, and they are handed over to the government of North Korea," King told the hearing, according to his statement released by the commission.
"The United States and the international community must announce now that it will sanction any Chinese official involved in the forceful repatriation of any North Koreans back to North Korea, pointing out they will also be pursued in international court for being complicit in murder, if these fears are, indeed, realized," he added. (Yonhap)
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