Conditions for the [Undergound Railroad] are getting tougher: In March, Tim Peters heard that bounties for captured North Koreans had tripled in China. Refugees are now bypassing urban Chinese areas altogether in favor of safer rural routes. So being able to seek asylum easily in the United States is an important safety valve, though it has been hard to use until now.
The [recent arrival of 6 North Korean refugees] represents a months-long political shift toward helping refugees. Until now the Bush administration has focused unsuccessfully on lackluster six-party talks, aimed at disarming North Korea's nuclear threat. When the latest round last November yielded few gains, activists who had been arguing that human rights should be top priority in U.S. policy began gaining traction.
"Our side is in the ascendancy now," said Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation, a Virginia-based group that promotes human rights and democracy. "What happened is the people that were in the Bush administration who favored six-party talks—they've lost that argument."
Adding steam about the same time last October was Tim Peters' congressional testimony about how U.S. embassy workers in Vietnam, China, and Thailand were refusing to help North Korean refugees in danger, despite a 2004 law making it easier to do so.
Lawmakers wrote Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in February to complain, pointing out that "not one North Korean (had) been offered asylum or refugee status in the 16 months since the unanimous passage of the legislation."
More North Korean refugees are expected in the United States now, though Mr. Peters remains cautious about the good news. "I'm happy that the six came through, and let's just hope we can make up for lost time."
[Excerpt of an article by Priya Abraham, WORLD Magazine]