Some 123 former ambassadors issued a statement on Thursday urging the Chinese government to stop repatriating North Korean defectors. The statement said refugees from the North are considered South Korean citizens under South Korea's Constitution. "We believe that this is an important issue directly related to the peaceful reunification of Korea," they added.
Although a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention, the Chinese government openly violates the convention based on a border security agreement it signed with the North Korean regime in 1998, the statement said. "The inadequate protection of the human rights of North Korean refugees is a great disappointment and regret not only to Koreans but to the international community."
They called for a stop to the repatriation of North Korean defectors "for the sake of a brighter future for South Korea and China" and urged Beijing to live up to its status as a major power.
The diplomats proposed a screening organization of UN officials and government and civilian representatives from countries in the region, including South Korea and China, to establish whether North Koreans in China are genuine refugees.
China recently sent back about a dozen North Korean defectors who had been arrested in three northeastern provinces, according to rights groups.