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Lao authorities return refugees to North Korea

  • daawgon

    Joined Travelfish
    17th April, 2007
    Posts: 914
    Total reviews: 2

    (CNN) -- The nine young North Koreans thought they were near the end of their long and dangerous journey toward freedom.
    Their years-long odyssey had taken them thousands of miles, from North Korea, one of the world's most repressive states, to Laos, a small, landlocked nation in Southeast Asia. From there, they just needed to cross the border into Thailand and find their way to South Korean diplomats who would be able to offer them citizenship and a new life.
    Orphaned and homeless: Surviving the streets of North Korea
    But something went wrong in Laos. They were detained by the authorities. And rather than transferring the group of young refugees to South Korean officials, as the people engineering their escape were anticipating, the Laotian government this week did something unexpected.
    It gave them back to North Korea.

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    "This is a horrible, horrible thing that has happened," said Suzanne Scholte, the president of the Defense Forum Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit group that was involved in the effort to get the young North Koreans to safety.
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    The United Nations' refugee agency, UNHCR, says Laos deported the group of North Koreans to China on Monday. And Scholte said Friday that she believes they have already been flown back to North Korea, where she fears they could face torture or even death.
    Human rights advocates and UNHCR have criticized the decision by Laos to deport the refugees, who are between 15 and 23 years old, noting that international law gives people the right not to be forced to return to places where they face persecution.
    Thousands of North Koreans have fled their country's Stalinist regime since the Korean War in the 1950s and settled in South Korea, which offers them citizenship. Most of them make their way there through China and Southeast Asia.
    Plucked from the streets
    Until they were detained by Laotian authorities earlier this month, it appears the group of young North Koreans traced a path similar to that of many other refugees.
    Years ago, they slipped through the authoritarian grip of their homeland and crossed the border into China, most likely with their various parents.
    Opinion: What North Korea could learn from Myanmar
    Scholte said that in China, one or way another, they all ended up fending for themselves on the streets, eating out of trash bins and dodging North Korean agents. She said she didn't know whether their parents had abandoned them, died or been detained and sent back to North Korea.
    They were plucked from that precarious existence by a South Korean man and his wife who were living in China, Scholte said, referring to the man only by the name of "M.J." to protect his identity.
    Read more: Why the Korean War still matters
    M.J. and his wife took in a total of 15 young North Koreans, giving them food, shelter and protection for more than four years. To avoid getting caught, the youngsters had to remain inside at all times.

    130412125820-lah-nkorea-brainwash-00003625-story-body.jpgBrainwashed by North Korea

    111220013338-hancocks-korea-defector-story-body.jpgAdjusting to life outside North Korea

    111220103944-pkg-chance-uk-north-korea-dissident-00003828-story-body.jpgNorth Korean dissident celebrates



    "You could liken it to a Jewish family trying to hide from the Nazis," Scholte said. "They had to be invisible."
    China doesn't treat North Koreans in its territory as refugees and usually sends them back across the border.
    Difficult journeys
    In 2011, the Defense Forum Foundation began working with M.J. and his wife to try get the group of North Koreans out of China to South Korea or the United States.
    They managed to get the three oldest North Koreans to safety in South Korea via Thailand, Scholte said. Next, they succeeded in organizing the escape of the two youngest children and one with learning difficulties to the United States.
    Analysis: What's Kim Jong Un up to?
    Nine others remained in China. M.J. and his wife accompanied them on the quest to reach South Korea via Laos and Thailand.
    They reportedly entered Laos around May 10 and were detained soon after that. At the time, Laotian authorities assured M.J. and his wife, who were not being held, that there was nothing to worry about, Scholte said.
    "We had no reason to believe that the Laotians were going to cut some deal with North Korea," she said, noting that she had helped to get four other North Koreans to the United States from Laos in 2009.
    But on Monday, she said, M.J. received word that the group of refugees was being taken to the North Korean Embassy. By then, it was too late to save them.
    "When I got the call, I was in shock," Scholte said.
    An 'alarming case'
    Other organizations also were surprised by the development.
    Laos has been one of the main routes to a safe country for North Korean defectors, according to Eun Young Kim, a senior program officer with the Citizen's Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, a nongovernmental organization based in Seoul.
    "We never officially experienced the Laotian government actually cooperating with the North Korean government and sending them back to North Korea," she said. "This is a very surprising, alarming case, especially the fact that the North Korean government got involved."
    Read more: Escaping from N. Korean gulag
    It was unclear what prompted the decision by Laos to give the refugees to the North Koreans.
    Laotian government officials in the country's capital, Vientiane, declined to provide official comment on the matter when contacted by CNN on Friday.
    But Khantivong Somlith, an official at the Laotian Embassy in Seoul, said that the refugees had been handed over to North Korea because they didn't have visas and were therefore in Laos illegally.
    "We know they are Koreans, that's why they were sent back to the North Korean Embassy," he said. "That's the rule."
    He said he didn't know where the refugees are now.
    Controversy in South Korea
    South Korean officials have been criticized in their country's news media as having failed to act quickly and decisively enough to get the North Koreans out of Laos after their detention.
    But Scholte said that all those involved in the attempt to recover the refugees had "underestimated" the North Koreans' determination to get hold of them. She noted the efforts of South Korea in previous successful operations to rescue North Koreans. "We haven't seen this before," she said.
    Interactive: Who's in range of North Korean missiles?
    The South Korean government has declined to discuss the specifics of this case.
    "We've expressed our government's position to the relevant nation and we have also consulted on future measures," Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Tai-young said in a news briefing Thursday.
    After reaching a peak of nearly 3,000 in 2009, the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea dropped to just above 1,500 in 2012, according to the South Korean Unification Ministry.
    Concerns over safety
    International organizations, meanwhile, are raising concerns about what fate awaits the deported refugees.
    "North Korea has to come clean on where these nine refugees are and publicly guarantee that they will not be harmed or retaliated against for having fled the country," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the advocacy group Human Rights Watch. "As a result of their return they are at dire risk -- North Korea criminalizes unauthorized departures and is known to torture those caught trying to escape and those sent back."
    U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern "about the safety and fundamental human rights of these individuals if they are returned" to North Korea.
    M.J. and his wife, herself a former North Korean refugee, are now back in South Korea and remain very upset about what happened, Scholte says.
    "This is a couple that was willing to risk their own life and safety to shelter these children," she said.
    CNN's Jethro Mullen reported and wrote from Hong Kong. CNN's Brian Walker and Madison Park in Hong Kong, K.J. Kwon in Seoul, Kocha Olarn in Bangkok and C.Y. Xu in Beijing contributed to this report.

    #1 Posted: 3/6/2013 - 21:14

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  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6244
    Total reviews: 10

    Laos government is ****. All one party states are screwed! I hope I am alive to see the day when the Laos government is overthrown by the Laos people and the bastards running it are hung from lamp poles. The only good communist, is a dead communist!

    #2 Posted: 4/6/2013 - 01:16

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    Mac you would find many kindred spirits amongst the most reactionary of the Lao PDR party members, if only you replaced the words Communist and Laos with CIA American spies.

    Laos is having some internal issues of late deciding just how liberal and open they wish to be.

    #3 Posted: 4/6/2013 - 09:21

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6244
    Total reviews: 10

    They are not kindred spirits Somsai, because they are not tolerant. They sent those people to their deaths - and they knew it. Sons of bitches. I believe in open debate (they don't), and criticism of government (they don't), and respecting the value of human life (they don't). They are facists dressed up in red clothing. Simple as that. All one party states are illegitimate.

    As for "CIA spies" there aren't any working in Laos. Because nobody gives a **** about Laos anymore. The communist threat has been well and truly contained. If Laos fell into a giant sinkhole, the CIA would barely notice.

    #4 Posted: 4/6/2013 - 09:55

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    Well Mac you said the only good communist is a dead communist and you know how that is, everyone from my 22 year old grad student brother in law to my toothless old Moscow educated grandpa in law and probably 100,000 other party members weren't exactly consulted over the matter, yet you wish to kill all of them. Since you wish to kill so many people don't you think it's a little much to accuse others of not valuing human life?

    When I hear my fellow Americans going off about the dreaded commies I'm reminded of those upcountry cadres that were too young for the war but plenty old enough to absorb all the anti American propaganda, I roll my eyes to both.

    Yup, sometimes the Lao PDR can be pretty harsh, and yes those sent back don't stand much chance. Reminds me of the refugees Thailand sent back to Laos that no one has heard of since. And remember, we are free to discuss any and all aspects of the Lao Govt here, not so certain, old fashioned, quaint, aspects of the place you live.

    #5 Posted: 4/6/2013 - 21:47

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6244
    Total reviews: 10

    Where I live there is dissent. There is criticism of government. There is even criticism of the monarchy now - although carefully framed to be sure. It isn't perfect (no government is) but it's a damn sight better than Laos. The government of Laos is simply not legitimate. That's not some uninformed, propaganda influenced opinion. It isn't legitimate for some very cogent reasons that you know well. In the same way the government of Nazi Germany wasn't legitimate. If you seek perfection in government to determine legitimacy then no government is legitimate, and the conclusion people start to argue from there is that they are all morally equiivelent. That is bankrupt thought, as you know well. Now Laos isn't the worst of them, North Korea gets that modern, dubious honor. But it's still illegitimate.

    #6 Posted: 4/6/2013 - 23:56

  • somsai

    Joined Travelfish
    1st March, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 563

    The following is from an NGO forum in Laos. The forum normally isn't concerned with politics but they reposted this article from Business Insider due to it's reference to hydro and Chinese investments.


    "Some observers see Beijing's influence in the Lao government's
    decision to return the group.


    Experts say that Laos has, over the past ten years, been transformed
    into a de facto satellite state of China. Beijing holds sway over the
    tiny, agrarian Southeast Asian state of 6 million people with its
    countless hydropower and natural resource investments. In short,
    analysts have said that China hopes to turn Laos into the "battery of
    Asia," fueling its growing demand for electricity and raw materials.


    Laos, in exchange, tends to follow China's foreign policy line, which
    this episode has shown can include Beijing's approach to North Korean
    refugees.


    The Chinese government treats North Korean defectors as economic
    migrants rather than political refugees who fear persecution upon
    return to their homeland. This designation allows China to refuse
    asylum to North Koreans under the 1951 UN refugee convention, to which
    it is a signatory.


    South Korean government figures show that the number of North Koreans
    escaping to the South fell by 44 percent in 2012 compared to a year
    earlier, a drop attributed to increased border controls introduced
    under new leader Kim Jong Un. "


    The story made the international news in the US but no one I've talked to in Laos over the past couple of days is even aware of the issue. Until Thai TV begins running some stories I doubt it will be known in Laos.

    #7 Posted: 5/6/2013 - 09:01

  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6244
    Total reviews: 10

    Well Somsai, you know the saying, you get in bed with the devil, sooner or latter you're going to have to ****. That's what the Pathet Lao get for siding with the wrong side during the war.

    #8 Posted: 5/6/2013 - 11:27

  • Rufus

    Joined Travelfish
    22nd April, 2007
    Location Laos
    Posts: 950

    They sent those people to their deaths - and they knew it.
    Are you talking about the US abandoning their Hmong allies in the Vietnam War?

    Sons of bitches. I believe in open debate (they don't), and criticism of government (they don't),
    Are you talking about Wikileaks and now the attempted extradition of Edward Snowden? Perhaps you are commenting on the bugging of China?

    and respecting the value of human life (they don't).
    Are you talking about the lack of control of guns?

    #9 Posted: 23/6/2013 - 20:55

  • exacto

    Joined Travelfish
    12th February, 2006
    Location United States
    Posts: 2378
    Total reviews: 47
    Places visited:
    At least 98

    Don't forget the MS St Louis, an ocean liner with over 900 Jewish refugees turned away by the United States (as well as Cuba and Canada) in 1939. That's perhaps an even closer example to the wrong done in this incident.

    But this and the other example above don't matter. All governments do immoral things. Even so, just because they all do it, it doesn't make those acts any less immoral. An immoral act is an immoral act, even when it is done by the government of a country we love.

    Also, if anyone personally had a hand in any of these decisions we've mentioned above, then I'd say they are being a hypocrite and should be quiet. But since clearly none of us had first-hand involvement in any of these decisions, I'd say we are free to criticize as much as we wish...

    #10 Posted: 23/6/2013 - 22:20

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  • MADMAC

    Joined Travelfish
    6th June, 2009
    Posts: 6244
    Total reviews: 10

    "They sent those people to their deaths - and they knew it.
    Are you talking about the US abandoning their Hmong allies in the Vietnam War?"

    That's right - a sad and pathetic decision made due to political exigency because they American people lost their will to fight. The wrong side won the war.

    "Sons of bitches. I believe in open debate (they don't), and criticism of government (they don't),
    Are you talking about Wikileaks and now the attempted extradition of Edward Snowden? Perhaps you are commenting on the bugging of China?"{

    "and respecting the value of human life (they don't).
    Are you talking about the lack of control of guns?"

    Rufus, I like you, so don't take this the wrong way. But you are being stupid here and making excuses for assholes and moral comparisons where they don't apply. You know it, I know it. So let's cut the bullshit. If you are trying to say that Laos governance compares favorably with US (or the British or any western democracy) governance, I am here to tell you you are wrong.

    "Don't forget the MS St Louis, an ocean liner with over 900 Jewish refugees turned away by the United States (as well as Cuba and Canada) in 1939. That's perhaps an even closer example to the wrong done in this incident"

    And wrong it was, although everyone understood Jews were oppressed in 1939 - nobody at that point realized Hitler intended to kill them all. But that said, it was wrong to not grant them asylum. So, noting it was wrong, doesn't excuse this event. Nor does it create moral equivelency between a one party state and a multi-party democracy. Attempts to do so are pathetic and anti-intellectual.

    #11 Posted: 24/6/2013 - 03:18

  • daawgon

    Joined Travelfish
    17th April, 2007
    Posts: 914
    Total reviews: 2

    Update on this refugee story from CNN

    #12 Posted: 16/10/2013 - 12:37

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