Seoul’s Foreign Ministry has come under fire for its handling of a case involving North Korean defectors who were caught while attempting to flee to South Korea via Vietnam and who possibly face deportation to North Korea.
A human rights group has accused the Foreign Ministry of lack of action, but the ministry said it has been working on the case since it was reported.
On Friday, about 10 North Korean defectors were caught for the second time by Vietnamese guards in Lang Son at the border area between Vietnam and Laos while seeking to come to South Korea.
A group of 14, who had left China on Nov. 21, had been caught in Vietnam on Nov. 23 as they attempted to make their way to Laos. The Vietnamese authorities had returned the group to China on Nov. 28. The following day, 10 of the original 14 were caught again in Vietnam.
Peter Jung, a Christian pastor working with Justice for North Korea, a Seoul-based human rights organization, said South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has been sitting idle on the case.
After they were caught the first time, one of the defectors called the South Korean Embassy in Vietnam for help, while human rights groups in South Korea also reported the case to the Foreign Ministry, according to Jung.
However, they have not seen any action taken by the ministry nor have they received any response from it, Jung said.
The defectors were reportedly taken into custody at a border protection center in Lang Son right after they were apprehended, but their current whereabouts are unknown.
The Foreign Ministry, however, said it has been working on the case since it was reported and it has been consistently in contact with the Vietnamese government. Further details could not be revealed due to concerns about the safety of the defectors, the ministry added.
According to Jung, the 10 defectors were apprehended and four managed to flee and are in hiding. The defectors caught include one teenager and two men in their 20s.
Human rights organizations have raised concerns, as North Korean defectors who are repatriated may be subject to harsh punishment, torture and possibly execution with no due process.
By Jo He-rim (firstname.lastname@example.org