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15,000 Signatures: "More must be done to protect North Korean refugees against enforced repatriation
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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15,000 Signatures: "More must be done to protect North Korean refugees against enforced repatriation"

After sending urgent appeals to the international community and holding multiple protests, NKHR was relieved to see the nine North Korean youth who were forcibly repatriated from Laos appear on North Korean television on June 21.  We were thankful that they were alive and appeared to be unharmed.  But what will happen to them once people start to forget? 

When North Koreans cross through third countries to come to South Korea, many are in such a despondent state that they travel with rat poison. In case they are caught, they would rather take their own lives than be dragged back to North Korea.   This is the terrible desperation of North Korean refugees.

Recognizing their anguish, and frustrated at the lack of assistance given to these refugees, NKHR started a signature-gathering campaign.  We needed to send President Park Geun-hye a strong message that South Korean embassies in Southeast Asian countries have a mandate to protect and assist refugees coming from North Korea, which the embassy in Laos failed to do.   

There was a strong internal debate about how to send our country’s leader this message.  Many staff members opposed the idea of a signature-gathering campaign.  It would be too time-consuming, and after all, how many could we possibly get? 

But led by NKHR’s Deputy Director Young-ja Kim, a small team forged ahead with the campaign, entitled “Your Signature Will Be Delivered to the President: Save 9 North Korean Orphans.”  She put out a call to our networks via email, text messages, and fax.  She also took volunteers into the streets to register awareness of enforced repatriation with members of the public.  In a little over two weeks, NKHR received over 15,000 signatures.  They were faxed, emailed, mailed, and hand-delivered by people all over South Korea.  Media began to cover it, and soon we received calls from several high school students who volunteered to gather signatures at their respective schools.  They were motivated by a drive to help young people their age who had none of the freedoms that they experienced in South Korea.    

On June 24, 2013, NKHR mailed all the signatures to President Park, and hand-delivered an official message of solidarity for North Korean refugees to her office at the Blue House.  In it, we urged her to bring up the issue of enforced repatriation in her upcoming meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping and to work for safe passage of all North Korean refugees through China.  We received a letter from the President’s office acknowledging our campaign.  After her trip to Beijing, it was reported that President Park did indeed discuss enforced repatriation with President Xi. 

More international support is needed to ensure that tragic incidents of enforced repatriation do not happen again.  It is imperative for the international community, including China and all Southeast Asian countries, to keep with the principle of non-refoulement.  NKHR must and will continue to work for this result.