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South Korean Unification Ministry,
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South Korean Unification Ministry,
World News

Parliamentarians, persecution watchdog demand answers after South Korea allows North Korean escapees to be repatriated

by Tola Mbakwe

Shocking footage of two terrified North Koreans being forcibly dragged back to their home country by South Korean officials has been released.

The video, shared by Seoul’s Ministry of Unification, follows on from several still images of the repatriation, released by the ministry last week, which caused outrage in South Korea.

There are unconfirmed reports that after the men returned to North Korea in 2019, they were probably executed or imprisoned.

It has also prompted international anger, with several parliamentarians, led by Lord Alton Co-chair All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, sending a letter to the new president Yoon Seok-Youl, expressing their “deep sadness and concern” at the images.  The event happened under former South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

“I was in tears. It brought me trauma,” says Timothy Cho, the North Korea spokesperson for the Christian persecution charity Open Doors UK, who was himself repatriated by force, facing torture.

“I think every North Korean escapee who has experienced forced repatriation will understand.

 “And you can only imagine how insecure escapees living in South Korea are feeling after they watch this.”

The president at the time, Moon Jae-in said that the deportation was an appropriate move, as the men were "dangerous criminals who would threaten South Koreans' safety."

The pair were accused of killing 16 fellow fishermen in a fight over their treatment by an “abusive leader.”  However, there was widespread condemnation of the move, which, it is argued, denied the men a fair trial.

“Even if the men were guilty of these killings, they were entitled to a fair trial. Once people reach the south, they are considered to be citizens of South Korea. This was utterly inhumane.

“You can even see them attempting to kill themselves once they have crossed the Demilitarised Zone – that’s how frightened they were.”

Cho said he considers the deportations to be politically motivated, as was the release of film footage by the new government.

“This kind of manoeuvring is like a game of political ping pong between the parties in South Korea. "And it has the cost of North Korean escapees' lives.”

He told Premier the show of injustice could have implications for other North Koreans who are defected because of their Christian faith.

“There are over 34,000 North Korean escapees living in South Korea at the moment, as South Korean citizens. "But imagine if this kind of case happened and we close our eyes, this is going to happen again and again, which will feel unstable and uncertain for North Korean escapees who have managed escaping from North Korea and arrived in South Korea.”

North Korea is second on Open Doors’ World Watch list of places where it is most dangerous to be a Christian. Believers face imprisonment in one of the nation’s notorious prison camps, or even execution.

Many Christians attempt to escape to either China or South Korea to freely practice their faith. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has meant that North Korea closed its borders, making escape even more difficult and dangerous.

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