China Facing Protests Over the Plight of North Korean Refugees

JAMES BROOKE
The New York Times

Human rights advocates who have been trying to draw attention to the plight of tens of thousands of North Korean refugees in China are shifting their tactics, six leaders of the efforts have announced. Instead of helping groups invade foreign embassies in China to seek asylum, they will support protests at Chinese diplomatic missions and at United Nations offices around the world.
One of the advocates, Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor known for his provocative style, said that he plans to lead a protest rally to the Chinese Embassy in Washington next week.
A bill is progressing through the United States Congress that would earmark up to $80 million to help feed, clothe and move to safety people who escape the North Korean Communist dictatorship.
But increasingly, North Korea is in the public eye, not only for the nuclear weapons program to which it admitted recently, but also for its abuse of its own citizens. Human Rights Watch, the New York-based human rights group, recently released a report, "The Invisible Exodus: North Koreans in the People's Republic of China."
Saying that as many as 300,000 North Koreans made their way across the border to live clandestinely in northern China, the report called the situation "a human rights disaster." The group demanded that China immediately stop forcible repatriations, some of which end in death.
On Wednesday, the human rights advocates denounced the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, saying the agency had surrendered its protection mission in face of Chinese obstruction.
"The U.N.H.C.R. will be the target of our actions in the future," warned Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers, a Brussels-based group.
Over the last half century, China has signed several agreements with the United Nations pledging to refrain from repatriating migrants until it can be determined if they are economic or political refugees. In practice, China has closed the refugee areas to the United Nations.
China appears to fear an uncontrollable influx of North Koreans if it applies the Human Rights Watch prescription: an end to forcible repatriation, screening of refugees by the refugee agency and the awarding of "an indefinite humanitarian status" to "all North Koreans in China."
"The one agency with the authority to force a solution has chosen to sit on its hands," said Tarik M. Radwan, a lawyer for Jubilee Campaign, U.S.A., a religious-based human-rights group from Fairfax, Va.
Such criticism was rejected at the Geneva headquarters of the 51-year-old refugee agency this week.
"Picketing our offices does not solve the problem," Kris Janowski, the agency's spokesman, said by telephone. "We don't run China."
"We have a longstanding request with the Chinese to get access to the border," he continued. "Where we are hosted by a government, we have to operate with a government's consent."
Mr. Radwan, the American lawyer, said of China's actions: "An iron curtain has been brought down. No one is getting to the border areas."
Kim Guang Choel, a 27-year-old former railway worker in North Korea who arrived in South Korea last summer with his wife and daughter, contended in an interview that if refugees were guaranteed safe passage, "The cities will be empty. It will take only six months for there to be a flood."