North Koreans seek asylum in Beijing school

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies)  - As many as 29 North Korean asylum seekers fled into a South Korean school in Beijing on Friday. The incident was the latest in a surge of large-scale North Korean asylum bids in China. South Korea's national news agency Yonhap reported that twenty-three women and six men entered the South Korean school on the rural northern outskirts of the Chinese capital Friday morning. They told school authorities they wanted to go to the South. The group included two children. The group cut through a wire fence to enter the building, and holed themselves up in the headmaster's office on the ground floor of the five-story school building. School authorities reported the incident to the South Korean Embassy. The school has 556 students and does not seem to have diplomatic status, although many South Korean diplomats send their children there. In Shanghai, nine North Koreans who entered the American School last month were handed over to police, on the grounds that the school had no diplomatic status. On Sept. 1, 29 would-be North Korean defectors climbed a wall to get into the Japanese school in Beijing. They were quickly taken to the Japanese Embassy, which has not released information on their status.

Hundreds of North Koreans fleeing their repressive Stalinist nation have been allowed to leave for rival South Korea over the past three years after seeking asylum in embassies and other foreign offices in China, North Korea's last major ally.

Last week, 20 people claiming to be North Korean asylum seekers scaled walls and crawled under barbed wire to reach the South Korean Consulate in Beijing.

In September 44 possible North Korean asylum-seekers found refuge in the Canadian Embassy.  Despite the risks, many North Koreans are still prepared to take the chance and activists estimate that about 200,000 are currently hiding in China.