Korean Americans blast treatment of North Korean refugees | Photos from Federal Way rally

Dozens of Korean Americans from the Seattle-Tacoma area protested the treatment of North Korean refugees during a rally March 26 in Federal Way.

China is under fire for its repatriation policy of North Korean refugees. Rather than being granted asylum, the refugees are sent back to North Korea, where they face torture, imprisonment and even death. Families of these defectors often suffer severe punishment — a disincentive for others considering escaping into China through an "underground railroad" of sorts.

Some believe that with the current Chinese policy, thousands of Korean lives are at stake.

"We cannot tolerate the Chinese government doing that," said John Oh, chairman of the National Unification Advisory Council Seattle Chapter, which organized the rally in Federal Way (SEE PHOTOS). "I want the state of Washington's government and local people to know about what the Chinese government is doing."

The chapter has written letters to China President Hu Jintao as well as António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. In May, about 30 chapter members will visit South Korea to speak on behalf of Korean Americans.

North Korean refugees are trying to escape that nation's tyranny and economic conditions that have resulted in substandard living and food shortages.

Thousands of North Koreans cross the border into China every year. China considers these refugees as illegal migrants, rather than asylum seekers. Some believe this designation clashes with the International Convention on Refugees, a 1951 UN-backed protocol seeking protection for refugees who face harm if returned to their native land.

According to the Unification Ministry in Seoul, about 2,700 North Koreans reached safety in South Korea last year, with most fleeing through China.

"We want them to be free and we want international support," said Edmonds resident Gary Choo, who attended the Federal Way rally held outside H Mart on Pacific Highway. "We'd like to promote global attention in terms of human rights."

Monday's rally coincides with the two-year anniversary of the sinking of The Cheonan, a South Korean navy ship, by North Korea. The incident killed 46 sailors and further heightened tension between the two nations.

Adding to the diplomatic tension: North Korea's recent announcement of plans to test-launch a rocket. That news surfaced during a nuclear security summit that began Monday in Seoul with world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The rocket launch is seen by some leaders as a provocation by the North Korean government.

Federal Way was chosen as the site for Monday's rally because of the city's large Korean population, an organizer said. More than 100 people attended, including Federal Way resident Sandra Englund. She said Koreans across the region and U.S. keep close tabs on controversy on the Korean Peninsula: "I'm personally outraged by everything about North Korea."


To see photos from the March 26 rally in Federal Way, click here.


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