Monday, April 21, 2008
Last night I went to an event organized by a couple friends and colleagues to raise awareness about the plight of North Korean refugees in China. They showed the documentary Seoul Train, which if you haven't seen it yet, is very much worth watching. The film follows three small groups of refugees, all passing through China with the hope of ultimately making it to South Korea. Though escape into China provides a degree of relief from the poverty and oppression experienced by the majority of North Koreans, the Chinese government does not recognize North Koreans as political refugees, and will arrest them and repatriate them if caught (in NK defecting is a capital offense). All this is done in violation of the UN High Commission for Human Rights 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, which China is party to.
I thought the film was very well done -- an excellent piece of documentary journalism. The facts and events were not over-politicized or emotionalized, but instead allowed to speak for themselves.
The three groups of refugees in the film each try different means of gaining refugee status. The first group travels to the China-Mongolia border and attempts to cross over to Mongolia, where they can finally be recognized as refugees. The second tries to enter the Japanese embassy, where they can be granted amnesty. The third group attempts to follow Chinese foreign affairs protocol and applies for refugee status (apparently the Chinese government once claimed that North Koreans were only arrested because they were not going through the appropriate legal channels -- so this group of refugees decided to put this to the test).
I was glad to learn more about this issue, and plan to do more research on my own (the Seoul Train website has a lot of resource links -- looks like a good place to start). They do a good job of suggesting simple ways that normal people can help -- most of which involve applying pressure to the political bodies central to this issue.