North Korea: Malnourishment crisis increases for population
China has already returned roughly 50 escapees, including air force pilots, all of whom are facing the death penalty, Chinese sources told the US-backed news network Radio Free Asia. The first repatriations since the border between North Korea and China was closed in January 2020 took place on July 14 in the north-western city of Sinuiju.
Because it has become increasingly difficult for those fleeing into China to move on to a third country, defectors are routinely rounded up and returned to North Korea.
The group returned earlier this month had been previously been held at a prison in Shenyang 250 miles, some for as long as two years.
Speaking at the time, the insider, a Chinese citizen of Korean descent, said: “The Dandong customs office was opened just for today and they sent about 50 North Korean escapees back to North Korea on two buses.
“This morning dozens of police officers lined up in front of the customs office to block public access and ensure nobody was filming the repatriation.
“There are 50 men and women in total, including North Korean soldiers and pilots who served in the air force.
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North Korea’s border with China
“Among them is also a woman in her 30s who made heaps of money in Hebei province.
“She was said to be very rich, but her neighbours ratted her out.”
There are many more North Korean citizens in Chinese custody who are also likely to be returned, the insider said.
Another source said Chinese onlookers had voiced their sympathy for the group.
Kim Jong-un is North Korea’s Supreme Leader
They explained: “They said ‘If they leave, they will die. It is horrible that after escaping their country to survive, they are going to be executed young.’
“The witnesses even showed hostility toward the police, who are essentially sending them off to die.”
The repatriations got the go-ahead after Pyongyang finally relented, having refused several requests by the Chinese authorities.
The second source explained: “Chinese authorities had planned to repatriate the escapees several times since April, but they were unable to because North Korea refused to accept them, citing coronavirus quarantine measures.”
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North Korean soldiers patrol on the banks of the Yalu River in 2006
North Korean soldiers carry out training exercises in the North Korean town of Sinuiju in 2018
Among the first 50 are North Koreans who escaped after the coronavirus pandemic started, they explained, adding: “So it will be difficult for them to avoid severe punishment when they get back to North Korea.”
North Korean authorities are also understood to have sent 90 long-term residents of Chinese citizenship across the border into China on empty buses sent to receive the North Korean escapees.
Chinese citizens who have been living in North Korea for generations are permitted relatively free travel to China.
During a press conference on Monday, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification was unable to confirm the reports.
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Spokesman Lee Jong Joo said: “The Government has made various efforts to protect and support North Korean defectors abroad.
“However, there is nothing that the ministry can confirm regarding the issue.”
Beijing claims it is obliged to return North Koreans living illegally within Chinese territory by, the 1960 PRC-DPRK Escaped Criminals Reciprocal Extradition Treaty and the 1986 Mutual Cooperation Protocol for the Work of Maintaining National Security and Social Order and the Border Areas.
Rights groups however argue forced repatriation violates China’s responsibility to protect escapees under the Refugee Convention.
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Just 229 escapees made it to North Korea last year as a result of the difficulties posed by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Ministry of Unification statistics.
A US Department of State spokesman said: “North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated are commonly subjected to torture, arbitrary detention, summary execution, forced abortion, and other forms of sexual violence.
“We are particularly concerned by recent reports that nearly 50 North Koreans were forcibly repatriated.
“We continue to urge China to fulfil its international obligations as a party to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and the UN Convention Against Torture.”