Thursday, November 24, 2005

North Korean Defectors Pose Challenges

The slow exodus of North Koreans from their impoverished homeland is posing increasingly vexing diplomatic problems for China and South Korea, as they grapple with their Stalinist neighbor's decay.

"When I came to China, I learned that people in North Korea eat worse than a pig in China," said a 34-year-old North Korean woman, now in China, who asked that only her surname -- Moon -- be used.

Moon currently holds a low-profile restaurant job in this dusty Chinese city. Yanji, which has a large population of ethnic Koreans, is located one hour from the North Korean border.

The mix of political oppression and brutal economics in North Korea has left defectors on the wrong side of the fence in the view of the Chinese government.

The issue has set South Korea and China at loggerheads while defectors and human rights activists contend that humanitarian concerns have been abandoned.

The government in Seoul is worried about the flow, fearing the situation is jeopardizing its efforts to improve relations with Pyongyang. Starting this year, South Korea slashed settlement money given to North Korean refugees by two-thirds - to around $9,000. The defectors have often used the settlement money to finance the escape of relatives through activist networks and human brokers.

Although China signed the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, China has opted to send many of the North Koreans back home, where campaigners say they face serious punishment, or death.

[From an article by Jeremy Kirk,]

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