North Korean asylum seekers arrive in South Korea

News Stories, 2 July 2001

The family fled North Korea two years ago. ©BBC

SEOUL Seven North Koreans arrived in Seoul on Saturday four days after they took refugee at the UNHCR office in Beijing, requesting to go to South Korea.

The Koreans left Beijing after Chinese authorities agreed in an arrangement with UNHCR and South Korea to their departure 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 François 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 had said that this group deserved 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 January 2001 UNHCR protested the return of seven North Koreans who had fled to China and subsequently turned up in Russia. UNHCR had declared these seven as refugees.