Monday, May 08, 2006

North Korea & United Nations High Commission for Refugees

[Portion of transcript of “Diplomatic License” with Richard Roth, CNN anchor]

RICHARD ROTH, CNN: Tim Peters, is the United Nations and the governments in the United Nations doing enough and doing the right thing concerning the refugees fleeing North Korea?

TIM PETERS: Well, Richard, in my opinion the United Nations, the members thereof, could be likened to bystanders or spectators sitting in the bleachers, kind of watching the drama down below on the playing field.

As far as the activist community is concerned, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees on the field there in China is not an actor and quite frankly we are puzzled why the United Nations, UNHCR, continues to even keep an office in Beijing, because we feel -- I feel in some ways that their departure in protest would have a far more conspicuous and powerful statement than a silent and passive remaining in China where, as Ron mentioned, the Chinese government has consistently not even allowed them to go to the border area.

RON REDMOND: Believe me, we're not in the bleachers. UNHCR has been a voice in the wilderness for the last five or six years on this issue. It's only recently that people have begun to pay attention to this issue. International attention has been focused on nuclear nonproliferation issues and other issues on the Korean peninsula. This thing has really been on the back burner, but it's not because UNHCR has not been trying to force this issue.

UNHCR, if we were to leave China, we would actually be leaving as one of the few human rights agencies that are in China. We also get refugees, asylum seekers, 200 or so a year, coming to our office in Beijing. Over the past six years there have been about 6,400 North Koreans who have ended up in South Korea. They didn't just drop in out of thin air. UNHCR helped a lot of those North Koreans get to the south.

ROTH: Suzanne, what's your thought on government action?

SUZANNE SCHOLTE: I do think that the UNHCR has been a failure and I don't think they've been aggressive enough. I think a lot of the people that have escaped have escaped under tremendous peril, going through several countries. It's people like Tim Peters who have been rescuing these refugees and getting them out through this underground railroad.

ROTH: OK. Tim Peters, you said -- very briefly -- you said they're doing it like pest control, the government in China, removing refugees and hunting them down?

PETERS: Absolutely, Richard. There is a stepped up program, a crackdown or strike hard campaign by the Chinese to send back the North Korean refugees as soon as they find them. There is no filtering process, no interview by the Chinese to determine if -- who and what is a refugee. It's simply shipped back by the truckload, sometimes as many as 300 or 400 a week.The fact that the international community is not coming forward and giving an outcry is so perplexing and extraordinarily frustrating for those of us that are trying to rescue these people.

ROTH: I have to stop our interview there. Tim Peters, with Helping Hands Korea, on the phone from South Korea, thank you very much.

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