Together with several other activists, the head of Justice for North Korea recently traveled from Seoul to eight countries in Europe to raise awareness there of China’s policy of forced repatriation of North Korean refugees. Below is the text of a letter they delivered to the UNHCR at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

• The Association of North Korean Human Rights Organizations (ANKHRO)
• Christians for Social Responsibility (CSR)
• Justice for North Korea (JFNK)

June 17, 2011

The Honorable António Guterres
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
Case Postale 2500
CH-1211 Genève 2 Dépôt

Dear High Commissioner:

We will mark June 20th, World Refugee Day, while in the midst of a nearly two-week trip to many of Europe’s capitals to protest the PRC government’s unconditional forced repatriation policy of undocumented North Koreans.  This practice violates the well-established principle of non-refoulement, which applies regardless of the refugee status of a person of concern.

We wish to congratulate the UNHCR on its 60th anniversary, and we are glad to learn about the many festivities scheduled this month.  However, reading about the events on the organization’s website, we sadly note we cannot find mention of those the UNHCR labels persons of concern in China and to whom we refer as North Korea refugees.  Will you include one of the several good documentaries about this group of refugees at your refugee film festival in Thailand?  Will you brief Chinese actress Yao Chen, scheduled to speak in Hong Kong and mainland China, about the NK human rights situation as you did Angelina Jolie when she came to Seoul last summer?  This issue must be loudly raised to the world — even when it is awkward to do so — and we hope the UNHCR takes a leading role in this fight around the globe.

However, we reluctantly must conclude that the UNHCR’s presence in Beijing is now unwittingly supporting the PRC government in its repatriation policy.  It is our understanding that the UNHCR does not overtly pressure the PRC government in order to quietly help individuals and small groups of refugees reach safety.  To the best of our knowledge even this kind of activity is severely limited at present.  It would be far more beneficial toward the goal of protecting undocumented North Koreans for the UNHCR to raise its voice boldly and publicly to the PRC government and demand cessation of all repatriation and grant the UNHCR access to all persons of concern.  If after 90 days the request has not been granted, albeit with a heavy heart, we strongly urge the UNHCR to leave China.  The UNHCR is not the only group helping small groups of refugees out of China, but as the official UN refugee agency it is the only group whose public withdrawal has the potential to change the big picture.

To stay while not being able to do your job in China is to condone the status quo and to fit nicely into the PRC government’s desired narrative that everything is ok with human rights in China.  Appeasing human rights abuses only encourages more.

We hope the UNHCR, South Korean NGOs, and international NGOs can work together to solve the problems North Korean refugees face in China.


Seo Keung Suk
Director, The Association of North Korean Human Rights Organizations (ANKHRO)

Kim Kyu Ho
Director, Christians for Social Responsibility (CSR)

Peter Jung
Director, Justice for North Korea (JFNK)