SEOUL • Eight North Korean defectors in China face involuntary repatriation after being detained by Chinese police last month for not having valid documentation, the Human Rights Watch group and a pastor who has been assisting them said yesterday.
Human Rights Watch said Chinese government authorities detained the eight North Koreans during what appeared to be a random road check in the city of Shenyang in north-eastern China.
The detention of North Korean defectors in China comes as United States President Donald Trump has pressured China to do more to rein in North Korea amid heightened tension over its nuclear and missile programmes.
"By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal Kim Jong Un's administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labour - and even worse," Mr Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement, referring to the North's leader.
Mr Robertson called on China not to deport the would-be defectors. The United Nations has said China is required under international law not to return defectors to North Korea, where they could face persecution, torture and possibly death.
China says North Korean defectors are illegal migrants who flee their country for economic reasons. North Korea calls them criminals and describes those who try to take them to South Korea as kidnappers.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the report and was unaware of the specific situation. "Some North Korean citizens, due to economic reasons, illegally crossed China's border. This violates Chinese law," Mr Geng told a daily news briefing. "China consistently handles this kind of issue prudently and appropriately according to domestic and international law, and humanitarian principles."