Above photo: Demonstrators stage a rally at the Chinese Embassy in Seoul to protest China’s policy of arresting North Korean defectors in 2012. Source: Los Angeles Times
by JAMES S. KIM
An activist group for North Korean defectors confirmed the arrest of 29 North Korean defectors and five guides in China, reports the Chosun Ilbo. It is said to be the largest arrest of North Korean defectors and guides recorded so far.
The individuals, who were divided into two groups, were arrested between July 15 and July 17, said the newspaper. Kwon Na-hyun, speaking on behalf of the activist group, said that 20 defectors were arrested in Qingdao, Shandong Province, and nine others in Kunming, Yunnan Province, as they made their way through an established escape route to Southeast Asia. Of the guides arrested, one of them, Na Su-hyun, 39, was a former North Korean defector who has a South Korean passport. The South Korean consulate general in China is expected to visit Na.
“Nine of them left for Kunming [from Qingdao] on July 14, because it would have been dangerous if all 29 defectors traveled together,” Kwon told the Chosun Ilbo. The defectors are being held in Tunmen, a town close to the North Korean border, and they face almost certain deportation.
Voice of America reports that the group of North Koreans consisted of four families, including a couple in their 60s and others in their 20s and 30s, as well as a 1-year-old baby.
The South Korean government apparently learned of the arrest on July 16 and is in the process of negotiating with the Chinese government for their release. A Seoul official told Voice of America that Beijing was very reluctant to release the North Koreans to South Korea. Meanwhile, China has not publicly commented on the issue.
Beijing’s policy for years has been to send North Korean defectors back, citing its border treaty with Pyongyang and illegal immigration problems as a whole. Instead of classifying them as refugees or asylum-seekers, the Chinese government classifies them as illegal economic migrants subject to deportation.