03/02/2005, 00.00
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N Korean denied entry to UN offices in China

by Pino Cazzaniga

Seoul (AsiaNews) – China is preventing North Korean refugees from meeting United Nations officials, this according to the US State Department 2004 Annual Report on Human Rights.

Published every year since 1977, the report is particularly relevant for China and North Korea.

With the adoption of the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 that allocated US$ 24 million over three years for North Korean refugees, Congress told the US administration to report their situation within three months.

Since NGOs are largely responsible for refugee care, the US State Department is providing US$ 1.7 million to Freedom House, a US pro-democracy NGO, to help it organise a conference on North Korea's human rights situation at a yet-to-be-determined place, probably Seoul.

The report goes further and says that "North Korea remains one of the world's most repressive and brutal regimes", calling it "one of the world's most militarized societies", with an "estimated 150-200,000 persons [. . .] believed to be held in detention camps in remote areas for political reasons".

The more daring or desperate who try escape often fall into a trap across the border in China. Here, the authorities have denied them access to the staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); Chinese police do their utmost to prevent them from entering the UNHCR headquarters in Beijing. Furthermore, the Chinese "government [has] denied the [. . .] UNHCR permission to operate along its border with North Korea.

For decades the US and the UNHCR have called on China to live up to its obligations under the 1951 Refugees Convention to which it is a signatory, and the Convention's 1967 Protocol which requires China not to repatriate refugees before they are seen by UNHCR officials.

The reports stresses US concern over the wretched conditions in which North Korean refugees live, threatened with forced repatriation and the risk of torture and execution back home.

To avoid international condemnation, Beijing has allowed some high profile refugees to escape to South Korea through a third nation. But according to Kim Kwang-tae, an analyst with the South Korean news agency Yonhap, in most cases, it has claimed that the refugees were economic migrants and not genuine asylum-seekers and so not protected by international agreements but rather subject to the Sino-North Korean extradition treaty.

The report mentions widespread accounts of trafficking in women and girls among refugees and workers forced into the sex trade or forced to marry Chinese men.

Increasingly, more and more voices in both the US and South Korea are demanding that the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games be withdrawn from China because of the inhuman treatment of refugees.

Last year, US Congressman Tom Tancredo said he planned to introduce a resolution in Congress calling on the International Olympic Committee to change the venue of the 2008 Olympics from Beijing to Toronto if China did not halt its halts its violent persecution of North Korean refugees.

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