Foreign Ministry 'Ignored N.Korean Defectors' Pleas for Help'

  • By Kim Myong-song, Roh Suk-jo

    April 05, 2019 12:18

    The Foreign Ministry here is ignoring the plight of four North Koreans who were caught by Russian border guards on March 26 in an attempt to flee to South Korea, an activist alleged Thursday.

    Chun Ki-won of the Seoul-based Durihana Mission, who helped the North Koreans, said Thursday they are laborers who had been sent to work in Blagoveshchensk in Siberia and were arrested when they tried to enter Mongolia en route to South Korea.

    "We notified the Foreign Ministry of their plight on March 29 and sought assistance, but we have yet to receive a response," Chun said. "For two years, the defectors had been asking the South Korean government to help them come here, but when they finally decided to make the journey under their own steam they were arrested," he added. "It's become very difficult for defectors to get to South Korea since the current administration took office."

    The ministry denied it is sitting on its hands. "We are trying our best. We contacted the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and are taking necessary measures," a ministry spokesman said.

    The ministry also claimed it "took necessary measures" in the case of three North Korean defectors who were arrested on the Vietnamese border earlier this week.

    It said the South Korean Embassy in Hanoi is "aware" of the incident and asked Vietnamese authorities not to send the defectors back to North Korea. "This is why they were deported to China and not sent back to the North," a ministry official said.

    But a former diplomat said, "If the government had tried harder, the defectors could have been allowed to enter Vietnam instead of being deported to China."

    After being inundated with questions from the media, the ministry offered to hold a press briefing on deep background without any officials being quoted, citing fears for the safety of the defectors.

    When that caused an uproar the ministry scrapped the plan. But there is speculation that it was trying to cover up its mistakes in dealing with the defectors, and zealously trying to prevent Cheong Wa Dae from being implicated in any awkwardness as it tries to engage North Korea in dialogue after the failed summit with the U.S. in February.

    The U.S. State Department in a recent report on human rights abuses pointed out that the Moon Jae-in administration attempted to quell North Korean defectors' vocal criticism of the North. The report said, "As the government engaged in talks with [North Korea], defector organizations reported coming under direct and indirect pressure from the government to reduce their criticism of North Korea."

    The Unification Ministry, meanwhile, recently stopped funding for civic groups aiding North Korean defectors and is preventing them from sending anti-communist leaflets to the North.

    The government is also dragging its heels over the establishment of a North Korea human rights foundation, while the position of envoy for international cooperation seeking to improve North Korea's human rights record has been vacant for more than a year.

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