May 20, 2016 11:17
Thirteen North Korean workers who defected to South Korea from a restaurant in China want to stay here, a lawyer who spoke to them told the Chosun Ilbo on Thursday.
"None of the 13 want to return to North Korea," said Park Young-shik.
Pyongyang has claimed that they were brought to South Korea against their will.
Park is an attorney recommended by the Korean Bar Association and serves as a human rights advocate to the National Intelligence Service. She met the 13 several times at a halfway house for defectors.
"The workers don't want their identities to be revealed due to concerns for the safety of their families left behind in the North," Park said. "I can't go into details about what we discussed."
Asked about a report in a pro-Pyongyang media outlet that one of the women had died while on hunger strike demanding to be returned to the North, Park said, "Do you really believe that? I can definitely tell you that all 13 of are in good health. They watch South Korean news and are going on outside trips as part of their acclimation process."
She said they are understandably reluctant to face the media here because they fear reprisal against their families in North Korea if they make a public statement.
The left-leaning group Lawyers for a Democratic Society had demanded interviews with them, but the NIS declined, saying the North Koreans are neither criminals nor refugees.
"I met each of the 13 North Koreans last weekend and asked them if they wanted speak with the LDS attorneys, but all 13 refused," Park said.
The 12 waitresses and their male manager arrived in South Korea on April 7 and have stayed at the halfway house since then.
An NIS official said, "They are legally entitled to remain at the halfway house for up to 180 days while the NIS investigates whether they came here as bona fide defectors and they can get some peace of mind."
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