Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tim Peters' Thailand Testimony

Tim Peters of Helping Hands Korea testifying before U.S. Congressional committee:

I learned in June of this year that a North Korean refugee had made his way to Thailand. All indications suggested that he belonged to a nascent resistance movement within North Korea.

Due to political developments in South Korea that this refugee deemed to be overly submissive to Pyongyang, he hesitated to ask for resettlement in South Korea, worrying for his own personal safety there and the possible impediments to his continued liaison work with fellow resistance members in North Korea.

He specifically requested assistance from activists to obtain entry into the United States. I immediately called a US Embassy official in Seoul, whom I had found to be both knowledgeable and helpful in refugee matters. Outlining this refugee's remarkable situation, I asked the embassy official if he could coordinate communication with the State Department and his colleagues in Thailand to consider this man's exceptional situation, for which the North Korean Human Rights Act seemed particularly well-suited. He did so promptly.

But again, the relayed responses from Washington and the US Embassy in Bangkok were both opaque and equivocal. We were urged NOT to take him to the US Embassy in Bangkok, but instead to the UNHCR office in Thailand to determine his status as a refugee and which country would be best suited for his resettlement.

I was assured that if the UNHCR were to recommend his resettlement in the US, then the US would be willing to accept him. I agreed to take him to UNHCR and immediately communicated with the Bangkok office of the UNHCR

However, I also notified the State Department via the US Embassy in Seoul. that there was a high likelihood that this man's movements were being monitored by North Korean agents in Thailand. Therefore, I requested a non-contact security escort for this North Korean refugee, a fellow activist and myself, as we physically escorted this resistance figure to the UNHCR office in Bangkok. I was told that the US Embassy in Bangkok would not provide such security for us as we were not diplomats.

On the day we took him to the UNHCR office, we simply invoked the power of prayer and the time-honored promises of Psalm 91 for our protection. I'm happy to report that no untoward incident occurred despite our obvious vulnerability.

What has transpired in the past four months was nothing short of a Catch-22 scenario between the UNHCR office and the US Embassy in Bangkok. .. This brave North Korean refugee fell between the bureaucratic cracks and, at one point, ended up on the streets of Bangkok, working as an illegal construction worker to make ends meet.

In my estimation … this prolonged stiff-arm of Mr. Park makes a mockery of the State Department’s claim in its recent report to Congress that “resettlement of North Koreans in the United States is available in cases where this solution is deemed appropriate.”

To the best of my knowledge, the refugee in Thailand continues to await processing and remains vulnerable in that setting. This refugee's story and our attempts to assist him through this extended ordeal are explored in a U.K. Channel 4 /CNN documentary entitled "Undercover in the Secret State."

[Excerpts from a testimony by Tim Peters before The House Committee on International Relations]

Full testimony: The House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific

PDF version

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