11/11/2004, 00.00
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Forced repatriation for 70 refugees

Some 70 North Korean refugees arrested last month for trying to reach the South Korean Consulate in Beijing are forcibly repatriated.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government ordered the repatriation of 70 North Korean refugees: 62 arrested on October 26 in raids against safe houses in the Chinese capital; 8 stopped by Chinese police as they tried to go over the wall around the South Korean Embassy.  Two South Korean human rights activists helping the refugees were also arrested.

Since 2001 hundreds of North Koreans have fled the Stalinist regime in power in Pyongyang seeking refuge in the South by making their way into foreign Embassies and other diplomatic missions in China's capital.

In the last two and half months, more than a hundred North Koreans have been sheltered by foreign schools and missions in Beijing.

China has signed a treaty with North Korea whereby North Korean fugitives would be repatriated. The recent expulsions are a sign that the Chinese government is prepared to respect the terms of the treaty.

Human rights activists have criticised the government's hard line. "China knows that they [the refugees] will be executed or put in political prisoner camps for the crime of leaving the country," said Suzanne Scholte, president of the human rights group the Defense Forum Foundation.

Some estimates put the number of North Korean refugees in China at about 200,000, many living along the Sino-North Korean border.

China had hitherto turned a blind eye to North Koreans living and working near the border, but has never countenanced their emigration to South Korea or other countries.

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