Thursday, March 16, 2006

Lawmakers Frustrated about North Korea Refugee Act

It's a wait and see if there's any response. A bipartisan group of nine senior U.S. lawmakers have sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, expressing frustrations with the non-implementation of the North Korea Refugee Act, and urging the administration to establish an asylum policy for North Korean refugees.

Case in point: No North Koreans have been offered asylum since President George W. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act into law in October 2004.

The lawmakers also expressed alarm that the president apparently included no money for the act in his most recent budget request. The act had authorized $20 million to help North Koreans outside their homeland; $2 million to support human rights, democracy and economic reform in North Korea; and $2 million to help broadcast information into North Korea.

The State Department had no immediate comment on the letter, but Rice told Congress that her office was reviewing its policies "to see if we can find a way to participate in the refugee activities."

The letter, citing congressional testimony by humanitarian workers, said "some State Department employees at our own embassies in China, Vietnam and Thailand have actually refused to assist North Korean refugees who were at terrible risk."

In October, Timothy Peters, the founder of Helping Hands Korea, said at a hearing that U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing rebuffed him when he tried to arrange help for a 17-year-old North Korean refugee. "I thought to myself, `Is this the State Department's implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act?'" he said.

The letter also demanded that the United States urge China to stop what lawmakers said were efforts to send North Korean refugees back to their homeland and to jail humanitarian workers.

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