Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A dangerous journey

On the Chinese side of the Tumen River border with North Korea, elderly ethnic Koreans who run bamboo boats for tourists said refugees were easy to spot because their clothing style was different and they did not fit in with their Chinese counterparts.

Most people in this small city are openly sympathetic to their very poor North Korean neighbors, who occasionally breach the shallow waters of the Tumen River to reach China.

Once the refugees are in China, human rights activists have employed various techniques to get them out again - high-profile dashes using ladders to climb into embassy compounds in Beijing; desert drives to the Mongolian border; risky land routes through Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

"New routes are being looked for all the time," said Tim Peters, the founder of Helping Hands Korea, a nongovernmental organization that raises funds for clandestine operations to move refugees out of China."Old routes get discovered and get shut down."

Border guards and police are often bribed to look the other way.

Often, hard decisions must be made depending on the defector's profile and risk of imminent capture, Peters explained.

He said many South Koreans seemed to regard defectors as a costly social nuisance.Peters commented that if in the future, the international community is remembered as doing more than South Korea has when it comes to helping refugees from the North, "that's going to be a horrible scar on the consciences of their [South Koreans'] grandchildren."

[From an article by Jeremy Kirk,]

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