Slave to the Blog: Refugees in Focus

Kent Boydston (PIIE)



The NK Witness blog was founded shortly after the release of Haggard and Noland’s 2011 book Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea, which drew heavily on the insights of North Korean refugees. As such, refugees have remained a focal point of the blog; a few weeks ago Marcus Noland wrote a post noting that Trump’s refugee ban extended to North Korean refugees even if they were not the intended target. (Judges froze the ban but it now may go to the Supreme Court.) Today, a few notes on North Korean refugee issues.

First, I learned recently through Sheena Chestnut Greitens (University of Missouri) about a new Bush Center scholarship for North Korean refugees who have resettled in the United States. The program offers up to $15,000 annually per student to permanent U.S. residents or U.S. citizens who were either born in North Korea or are immediate family members of those who were. (For more information on the scholarship see here.) There are relatively few North Korean refugees living in the United States—by some estimates around 200—although this only includes those who obtained green cards through the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act. There are an untold number who are now either green card holders or have become U.S. citizens after first obtaining a third country’s citizenship.

Second, the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea recently published a statement in the Joongang Ilbo on North Korean refugee issues. The statement called upon China to stand by its obligations under international law to respect the principle of nonrefoulement regarding North Korean refugees. But the statement also recommended that “conscientious states” should do more to offer China alternatives. An excerpt of the statement reads:

“The North Korean government is the cause of the refugee crisis and should be our long-term target, but engaging the Chinese government may provide a more feasible short-term solution. Clearly, Beijing does not want North Korean refugees on its territory, so conscientious states should begin to quietly offer an alternative to China: namely, that their embassies and consulates would, without publicity or fanfare, take custody of captured North Koreans from Chinese authorities and aid their travels to safe havens such as South Korea or Europe. In return, China would gain further leverage over North Korea, end years of negative publicity, and put a foot on the right side of history.”

Although my hopes may not be high, I would welcome a new approach by the Chinese government that ultimately prevents their repatriation to the DPRK where they face certain punishment or even death. Conscientious states should continue to press this matter and work with China to encourage progress even as the global headwinds against refugees are strong right now.

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