Roger L. Simon

Give Me Your Tired Your Poor - Not So Fast!

As if we hadn’t heard enough repellent reports about the UN these days, Claudia Rosett has news today about their wretched treatment of refugees from that giant insane asylum known as North Korea.

The situation, by U.N. lights, is of course complex. For more than a decade, North Koreans have been fleeing their country by the only avenue even partly open to them–past the northern border patrols, into China. An estimated 300,000 North Koreans are in hiding in China today. They have a well-founded fear of persecution, should they be sent back. Testimony has stacked up high and wide–much of it over the past four years, on Mr. Lubbers’s watch– that if returned these refugees would likely end up starved or worked to death in the labor camps of Kim Jong Il. Some are murdered outright. One recent dispatch from a South Korean private aid group, the Headquarters for the Protection of North Korean Defectors, reports that according to sources inside North Korea the regime there just last month executed some 60 North Korean would-be defectors sent back by China, killing at least eight in public, in the northern city of Chongjin–to deter others from making a run for it.

Such would-be refugees have been dying faceless, nameless and scarcely even remarked upon by the world community. But these were human beings. They had faces and names. From what we know of conditions in North Korean detention centers, it’s a good bet they were freezing, famished and quite possibly tortured in the hours before they were then murdered in public due to the combined and systematic state policies of China and North Korea.

Where is the U.N. in all this? Under the U.N. Refugee Convention–which Beijing has signed and the UNHCR, with its $1.1 billion budget, is supposed to administer–these North Koreans refugees had rights. The convention promised them not a return to their deaths, but at least safe transit through China to a place of asylum.

The UNHCR keeps an office in Beijing, with a budget this year totaling $4.4 million, to which asylum seekers have no access. Four years ago, a family of North Korean refugees actually stormed the premises and gained asylum after threatening to eat rat poison from their pockets if forced back out onto the street. Since then, the UNHCR has allowed China’s security agents to better defend the compound against further visits by the people the UNHCR is supposedly in China to protect.

The horrifying thing about all this is that it is not even faintly surprising at this point.