Burma sends North Koreans to Thailand
|Publisher||Radio Free Asia|
|Publication Date||2 January 2009|
|Cite as||Radio Free Asia, Burma sends North Koreans to Thailand, 2 January 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/496234b8c.html [accessed 19 June 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Burma sends 19 North Korean would-be defectors across the border into Thailand, four weeks after they were arrested.
BANGKOK – Burmese authorities have sent 19 North Koreans, arrested while trying to defect to South Korea across the Thai border, into Chiang Rai province, where Thai authorities have now re-arrested three of them, local sources say.
The 19 North Koreans crossed the Thai border on Dec. 31 and then divided into three groups of three, six, and 10 people, according to a human rights worker who asked not to be named.
Three of them – a female guardian in her late 20s and two girls in their early teens – were arrested Jan. 1 when their bus was stopped at a police roadblock in Payao, about a two-hour drive from Chiang Rai, the source said.
They are now headed for the Chiang Rai immigration detention facility in Maesai, the source said, where they may be tried and from which they will most likely be sent to the central immigration detention center in Bangkok.
"They were released two days ago into Thailand where they came from," one Burmese resident said in an interview.
"As they came in illegally, they were sent back via Wan Pone border village, but nothing was announced when they were handed over, or which officials were involved. But we can confirm they were released and they were accompanied by a township immigration officer."
The 19 would-be defectors were fleeing poverty and repression in North Korea and trying to reach South Korea through China and Southeast Asia, when they were intercepted by Burmese authorities on Dec. 2.
One of the defectors, a North Korean woman in her late 30s who is part of the group of 10, said in a telephone interview that all 19 had been held at a police detention facility in Keng Tung, then sent to Tachilek in Burma, but they didn't have to face trial for entering Burma illegally.
Where the group of six defectors has traveled now is unknown, the human rights worker said.
South Korean asylum sought
The human rights workers said Burmese authorities felt pressured to release the North Koreans instead of trying them, and instead moved them to the region where they were initially arrested – sending them across the border to Thailand, their intended country of transit en route to the apparent final destination, South Korea.
"The North Korean refugees arrived in Thailand and right away surrendered to the Thai authorities," a Thai immigration official said. "They were asking for political asylum in South Korea."
"The South Korean embassy in Bangkok would have to notify us that their asylum applications were accepted, and then there must be an NGO group to give these refugees further assistance to reach their goal."
Earlier, a woman in South Korea who asked to be identified only as Kim said she and another mother were awaiting the arrival of their children, who were in the group.
The North Koreans, travelling by speedboat on Dec. 2, failed to slip into Thai waters in early December and steered toward neighboring Burma's side of the Mekong river instead, Korean sources said.
They disembarked close to Tachilek, a border town about 340 miles (550 kms) northeast of the former capital Rangoon, and Burmese authorities quickly arrested them. They were taken to an immigration facility and then transferred to an urban detention center.
More defectors transiting
The number of defectors crossing into Chiang Rai province in Thailand has surged in the last two months, Korean sources say.
"They were released two days ago into Thailand where they came from." – Burmese resident
Thousands of people have fled North Korea in recent years, citing hunger and harsh political oppression. Many escape taking a risky land journey through China to Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries before seeking asylum in South Korea, now home to nearly 14,000 North Korean defectors.
Many end up in Thailand, packing detention facilities. South Korea grants asylum to the North Koreans more slowly than the rate at which they have been arriving, creating a bottleneck that has strained ties between Seoul and Bangkok.
How Burma would handle this group of North Koreans was unclear, since the country had been working quietly to normalize and strengthen ties with North Korea since relations were restored in 2007.
Burma ended ties with North Korea in 1983 following a bombing in Rangoon by North Korean secret agents that targeted former South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan.
Chun survived but 21 people were killed and Burma was outraged.
Original reporting by Lee Dong-jun for RFA's Korean service and Aung Moe Myint for RFA's Burmese service. Translation by Greg Scarlatoiu and Khin Maung Nyane. Korean service director: Francis Huh. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producers: Alex Tseu and Susan Lavery. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.