Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"US-Bound NK Refugees in Bangkok Must Be Given Exit Visas"

Press Release from LiNK:

Washington, DC - LiNK calls upon the Kingdom of Thailand to issue exit visas without delay to North Korean refugees bound for resettlement in the United States. On Thursday, April 10, twenty three North Korean refugees launched a hunger strike as a final desperate plea to the Thai and U.S. governments for expedited processing of their exit visas. Participating in the hunger strike are 15 refugees currently in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center (IDC), as well as another 8 housed at an external shelter- all of whom are in the queue to go to the United States. Many of these refugees have been waiting for over a year in various IDC's in Thailand or in external shelters, some even up to two years with no sense for when they can anticipate leaving.

"These North Korean refugees cannot even begin to understand the true concept of freedom even after leaving North Korea if they are being kept in detention centers, prisons, and shelters for over a year with no idea when they will be able to leave and begin their new lives," noted LiNK Deputy Director Hannah Song. "In recent months we have seen a marked acceleration in processing of North Korean refugees headed for the ROK, but an inconsistent and delayed process for those hoping to go to the U.S."

Included in the group of refugees waiting to go to the U.S. was a North Korean woman who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The woman was granted an exit visa on humanitarian grounds yesterday with her immediate family; other refugees, many of them also with serious health issues, remain in Thailand. As of Monday, April 14, LiNK protection officers reported that four refugees participating in the hunger strike had already fainted, with the remaining refugees determined to carry on until definitive measures have been taken to ensure their exit to the U.S.

The refugees in question have fled from North Korea, some spending significant time hiding in China, many facing situations of starvation, severe oppression, sex trafficking or exploitation from brokers on the long journey to Thailand. While the Thai government will not repatriate North Koreans, and claims to recognize them as refugees, in practice they have been treated as illegal immigrants and subject to imprisonment in IDCs.

Liberty in North Korea, or LiNK, an international NGO devoted to the protection of human rights for North Koreans, has been monitoring the situation of North Korean refugees in Thailand for 6 months. The organization has met regularly with refugees both in hiding and in the government's Immigration Detention Centers.

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