Seven North Korean asylum seekers arrive in Seoul

Press Releases, 30 June 2001

GENEVA Seven North Koreans arrived in Seoul today (Saturday) four days after they sought help at the UNHCR office in Beijing, requesting to go to South Korea.

After the concurrence of South Korea was obtained, Chinese authorities, in an arrangement with UNHCR, agreed to the departure of the North Koreans on Friday on humanitarian grounds. A UNHCR staff member accompanied the group during the journey from Beijing to Seoul.

"We are pleased at the resolution of this case," said Fran├žois Fouinat, UNHCR's director for the Asia-Pacific region. "We hope this incident will lead to an enhanced dialogue with the Chinese authorities that will enable us to address properly the plight of thousands of North Koreans in China, especially those who qualify under the refugee Convention signed by China."

The seven North Koreans belong to an extended family that left North Korea in 1999. They include a 17-year-old artist whose drawings of the harsh life in their famine-stricken country could get them in trouble if they were returned there.

UNHCR has declared that this group deserves asylum and that it would be unthinkable to return them to North Korea.

Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled their country for China, but UNHCR has had only limited access to areas where they are staying in north-east China.