19 July, 2021
The Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP
Secretary of State
Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office
King Charles Street
London SW1A 2AH
Dear Foreign Secretary,
We are writing to bring to your attention the forcible repatriation of 50 North Korean escapees by Chinese authorities on Wednesday 14th July. These North Koreans will without doubt end up in prison and labour camps where they will very likely die, either by execution or as a result of the dire conditions and mistreatment. China had delayed their repatriation for almost two years, holding these individuals in a Shenyang detention centre, until the sudden decision of the two countries made this week. According to our understanding, the complete border lockdown and a shoot-to-kill order of anyone approaching the border of North Korean authorities continue during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, there are several hundred more North Korean escapees detained in Shenyang, Tumen and other detention centres. We urge the international community to raise their cases with the authorities in China and to call for these escapees to be deported to South Korea, which will automatically receive them under its ‘one Korea’ policy.
North Korean escapees have already endured enormous grief, pain and trauma, including severe violations of human rights in North Korea. The news of their forced repatriation creates significant fear, as they await their fate of interrogation, imprisonment, torture and even death in North Korea.
Over the past two decades or more, China has forcibly repatriated hundreds of thousands of North Korean escapees, and most of whom ended up in the gulags and prison cells in desperate conditions. Only a small number of escapees have managed to escape again, including a few hundred North Korean defectors in the UK today.
This must not be the fate of North Korean escapees who simply ask to be able to continue their journey via China to South Korea and other democratic nations. It should remind us of the effort by Hungary and Austria to open their borders for East Germans to go to West Germany in the 1980s. Instead of China act responsibly according to humanitarian norms, the authorities in Beijing arrests North Korean escapees and sends them back to North Korea, in violations of its obligations as a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Geneva Convention, the 1967 Refugee Protocol, and the 1995 UN High Commissioners for Refugees.
The United Kingdom has a longstanding record of promoting and supporting human rights worldwide, and therefore should not remain silent on this profoundly important issue.
We would therefore be grateful if the United Kingdom would organise a dialogue with the Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China in London to raise this matter directly; and simultaneously raise this matter with the Ambassador of the Republic of Korea in London. We also encourage the United Kingdom to urge both China and South Korea to establish a constructive mechanism for the process of handling North Korean escapees in China.
As Sir Winston Churchill said, “If we are together nothing is impossible.” Let us stand with North Korean escapees and work together with others to ensure they receive the assistance and protection they so desperately need.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Co-chair All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea
Timothy Cho, Inquiry Clerk to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea
Benedict Rogers, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Senior Analyst, East Asia, at CSW