Monday, May 22, 2006

Cost of bringing out North Korean refugees

North Korean refugees hiding in China can be brought out of the country by paying "brokers", a U.S. human rights advocate says.

Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation, told Yonhap. News Agency, "You can get anybody out. It's all a matter of money."

"The price is usually between $500 and $2,000 a head, depending on whether they are high-profile or not."

She estimated dozens of North Koreans have come into the U.S., many under "witness protection" type programs, intentionally not publicized.

China, which shares a border with North Korea, is the primary escape route for the refugees who hope to reach South Korea or other countries to seek asylum. Tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to be hiding in such border cities.

Human rights groups are trying to raise money from private sources in the U.S. and other countries to fund a North Korean refugee assistance program.

In what will be a two-phase disbursement, the privately gathered funds will be used to pay the "brokers" to get the refugees out of their hiding place, while U.S. government funds will be used to help them once they are out, Scholte said.

"We would like to see that funding used to help organizations that are feeding, clothing and sheltering North Korean refugees wherever they are," she said. "Most of them are on a shoestring budget."

[Yonhap News]

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