Letter from the APPG on North Korea to the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, the Foreign Secretary, concerning forcibly repatriated refugees from China to North Korea

Oct 21, 2023 | News

Letter from the APPG on North Korea to the Rt Hon James Cleverly MP, the Foreign Secretary, concerning forcibly repatriated refugees from China to North Korea

The Rt Hon James Cleverly MP

Secretary of State Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

King Charles Street

London SW1A 2AH

Dear Foreign Secretary,

The UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea (APPG North Korea) is deeply concerned about the repatriation of 600 North Korean refugees last week, most of whom were Christians, women, children, and even newborn babies. 

They now face the severe risks of imprisonment, torture, detention in prison camps, and even execution. The coercive refoulement of these escapees was raised in Parliament this week by, among others, the former FCDO Minister, Lord Swire.

The repatriated North Korean refugees are treated as ‘criminals’ or ‘traitors’ by North Korean authorities, and they face harsh punishments under charges of treason if they are found to have any connections with Westerners, missionaries, churches, or their intention was to go to the Republic of Korea. 

These punishments may include imprisonment without legal process, enforced disappearances, lifelong detention in prison camps, and even execution. 

In this personal account of repatriation to North Korea, Timothy Cho, a North Korean escapee and the Co-Secretariat of the APPG North Korea, frequently shares the harrowing story of his experience in North Korean prison cells and the screaming of his fellow inmates. 

He still suffers the scars from that repatriation. Today, he deeply appreciates the freedom he cherishes in Britain and often expresses his gratitude to the people of the United Kingdom. 

Tragically, for millions of his countrymen and women their future fate is a much darker one and for twenty years the Chinese authorities have persisted in their long standing practice of forcibly repatriating North Korean escapees. 

This repatriation has led to the detention of hundreds of thousands of individuals in North Korean labour and prison camps, contributing to North Korea’s status as one of the largest prison nations in the world. 

China needs to uphold international law, adhere to the principle of non-refoulement, and fulfil its obligations under the 1951 Refugee Convention by facilitating a safe passage for refugees to transit through third countries and finally reach South Korea.

The APPG North Korea urges the British Government to initiate diplomatic dialogue with Chinese authorities and encourage them to deport North Korean refugees to third countries, instead of returning them to North Korea, where they can receive assistance from the Government of the Republic of Korea in accordance with the One Korea policy. 

Even the rescue of remaining children and women in Chinese prison cells, through these diplomatic efforts in collaboration with the Government of the Republic of Korea, would represent a significant achievement. 

We also strongly call upon our diplomatic channels with the DPRK authorities to urge them to comply with their international legal obligations concerning all returned escapees, especially women, children, and pregnant women. 

This includes upholding the absolute prohibition on torture, imprisonment, preventing enforced disappearances, coercive abortions, and ensuring the prohibition of arbitrary detention in labour and prison camps, and guaranteeing fair trial rights. 

We do, of course, appreciate that there are many appalling and disturbing situations in many parts of the world. However, the 26 million people of North Korea have long suffered in this darkest and most persecuted land, and they need our voice and support. 

Furthermore, the repatriation of North Korean refugees poses a threat to our respective values of freedom and human rights, values that our proud record of Parliamentary Democracy in the United Kingdom has upheld for hundreds of years. 

Please do assure us of your intention to raise this matter urgently and in every appropriate way. 

Yours sincerely.

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