Some 15 out of 35 North Korean defectors who were arrested in China last month have already been repatriated to face torture, imprisonment or death in the Stalinist country, according to a South Korean lawmaker.
Park Sun-young of the Liberty Forward Party claimed to have intelligence "that Chinese authorities sent 15 North Korean defectors back to the North at around 11:30 p.m. on Friday, other than the 20 it admitted to having arrested." China has admitted to the arrest of 20 defectors and is now discussing how to handle them with Seoul, but an activist group earlier claimed there were 35 arrests.
If Park's claim is correct, China sent the 15, who were earlier said to have been arrested in Weihai and Yanji, to North Korea without officially admitting their existence.
The activist group Commission to Help North Korean Refugees, which was the first to publicize the arrest of the 35, said it heard from a source that at least eight of the North Korean defectors who were arrested by Chinese police "are facing problems," i.e. are about to be repatriated.
The group said a South Korean who works to help North Korean defectors and one other defector were caught in Shenyang as they were crossing the border into China, and that led to a widespread crackdown on North Korean defectors in the region. Shenyang is the main corridor for the three northeastern provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang, and is the preferred route among North Korean defectors as they move south along the escape trail to Southeast Asia.
A Foreign Ministry official said, "I have not heard of more North Korean defectors getting caught or being sent back. We have learned that there are three South Korean citizens among them, but they are not in any danger of being sent to North Korea." One South Korean identified only by his surname Hwang(42), who is accused of violations in China, is expected to be indicted next week.