Refugees Reax, Part 2

We have learned, via the Donga Ilbo that the arrival airport was Los Angles.

The Donga also speculates about the meaning of the U.S. decision to comply with its own law and concludes that the admission of “common” refugees means that the U.S. is also preparing to clamp down hard on North Korea diplomatically and economically. While I hope that’s indeed the case, the conclusion ignores the fact that plenty of those in Congress (Leach and Lantos, to name two) want the United States to be more aggressive on humanitarian matters while continuing to pursue diplomacy. The acceptance of “common” refugees only means that the United States is applying the same policies to North Korean refugees that international treaty requires it to apply to refugees from other countries.

The Korea Herald oddly refers to the U.S. action as a “hardened” stance on human rights, suggesting a focus on the regime rather than the people. The paper reports that the North Koreans have not yet reacted, but the Roh Administration’s reaction thus far is muted:

“It was a foreseeable incident that was solely conducted at a humanitarian level so it should not have any significant affect on the six-party talks,” the official told reporters while accompanying President Roh Moo-hyun on his trip to Mongolia.
. . . .

[T]he Senior Secretary to the President for National Security Suh Choo-suk echoed Cheong Wa Dae’s position in a radio interview.
“I believe many of the recent moves reflect a certain atmosphere in the United States,” Suh said.

Mongolia, by the way, began accepting North Korean refugees long before the United States did (here and here) and is quietly supporting the establishment democracy in the North. That’s in sharp contrast to the timid and feckless UNHCR, which is now trying to find a middle course between the U.S. and China without quite abandoning the Chinese view that the refugees are “economic migrants.”

On May 5, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said that it will step up efforts to protect and support North Korean defectors in China and Mongolia this year.

At a press conference held at the Washington National Press Club on that day, the UNHCR announced its 2006 work plan.

In particular, the UNHCR urged the Chinese government to prepare a proper law covering the refugee issue and strengthen its legal protection and aid for North Korean defectors applying for asylum.

High Commissioner Antonio Guterres (photo) said that although most of the defectors in China are illegal aliens who crossed the border not for political reasons, but for hunger and a better life, they shouldn’t be repatriated to North Korea.

Gutierres obviously hasn’t read the report of the U.N.’s own Special Rapporteur, who has thoroughly debunked that position and called the North Koreans “refugees sur place.” And as Human Rights Watch has recently told us, the regime tightly controls food distribution based on a family’s perceived political loyalty. The strong and direct connection between hunger and political persecution thus renders the distinction between “political” and “economic” meaningless.

Further down, you can read more on the various statements of Korean and U.N. officials about whether South Korea accepts refugees who don’t go to the United States. The chaos is such that I have no clue what the South Korean position is. And wouldn’t you like to know what the South Koreans will say to the Mongolians about refugees?

Photo: Kim Han-Mi and her mother, by Chuck Downs.