U.N. Deputy High Commissioner Urges Against Forced Repatriation of North Korean Defectors in China

SEOUL — In an explicit call to adhere to international human rights norms, the U.N. deputy high commissioner for human rights has urged countries to uphold the principle of non-refoulement, indirectly pressuring China not to forcibly send back North Korean defectors.

According to Yonhap News Agency, Nada al-Nashif shared these views during her meeting with Kang Jong-suk, the South Korean official overseeing human rights and humanitarian affairs. The meeting occurred amid rising concerns about the fate of hundreds of North Korean defectors who were recently forcibly returned to their home country from regions along China's northeastern border.

Earlier this month, human rights groups reported that approximately 600 North Korean defectors detained in China's northeastern regions had been forcibly sent back to North Korea. The South Korean government confirmed that the repatriations occurred but did not specify the number of individuals involved.

The issue is particularly sensitive as tens of thousands of North Korean defectors are believed to be hiding in China, with the ultimate aim of reaching Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries and then resettling in South Korea. South Korea is currently home to more than 34,000 North Korean defectors.

The principle of non-refoulement prohibits the forced return of refugees to countries where they may face persecution. Despite being a close ally of Pyongyang, China does not recognize North Korean defectors as refugees and routinely repatriates them, where they can face severe penalties.

In a separate meeting held on the same day, Park Yong-min, South Korea's deputy foreign minister for multilateral affairs, met with Al-Nashif and expressed Seoul's serious concerns about North Korea's human rights conditions, specifically citing the recent forced repatriation cases in China.

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