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South Korean president presses China not to return North Korean

Seoul (UCAN): “They are not criminals,” said South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, commenting on North Korean refugees in China.

“The right thing for China to do is to handle them based on international humanitarian norms,” he stressed.

Lee pressed China not to repatriate them back to North Korea in the future.

To date, around 80 people are  reported to be facing repatriation and an uncertain future after being arrested by Chinese authorities after fleeing their own country.

Lee was speaking during a nationally televised news conference on February 22, the fourth anniversary of his inauguration. 

He said that South Korea would cooperate with China in resolving this issue.

Cho Byung-jae, a foreign affairs ministry spokesperson, announced on February 21 that the government in Seoul has decided to appeal to the international community over the issue of North Korean refugees and would do so at the United Nations Human (UN) Rights Council meeting to be held in Switzerland in the last week of February.

The Chinese foreign ministry insists, however, it is not an issue to be discussed in the UN, claiming that the defectors are not refugees, but labelling them illegal economic migrants, because they are undocumented.

Reverend Peter Jung, who helps North Korean defectors, said, “This is the first time South Korea would have raised the refugee issue at the UN.”

However, he holds out little hope of anything constructive coming out of the appeal.

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