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L.A. Activists Protest For North Korean Refugees

Judy L. Wang |
September 22, 2011 | 4:39 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Activists protested in front of the Chinese Consulate calling on China to stop the repatriation of thousands of North Korean refugees. 

Photo by Judy L. Wang
Photo by Judy L. Wang

The crowd of about 100 people circled a closed-off block of Shatto Place in Los Angeles holding banners and picket signs and demanding that China grant refugee status to North Koreans. Some picket signs had graphic pictures of emaciated orphans, while others had photos of a man’s scarred leg after being injured by an electric fence while trying to escape a North Korean prison camp. 

Most of the activists were elderly Asians who were either church members, human rights activists or missionaries. The noon gathering was part of an international protest being held in 13 countries and 24 cities asking people to help the 300,000 refugees and 20,000 stateless orphans in China.

Sam Kim of the Korean Church Coalition said that their main point was to get the word out to not only Koreans, but the world.

“The problem right now is China doesn’t recognize them as refugees, so they have no protection of the law," Kim said. "They’re considered economic migrants. They’re there illegally, so when China catches them they send them back to North Korea. When they go back to North Korea their prison sentence is seven years and five out of six of them die while in the prisons.”

Kim said that they are also trying to push the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act, which would help stateless children become adopted in places like the United States.

“It’s calling on the United States State Department to come up with a way for the North Korean orphans who are living in China to enter into the United States," Kim said. "You would think it’s an easy bill to pass.” 

The biggest obstacle, he added, is that the orphans are largely undocumented. 

Chung Hee Lee of the Global Education Mission said that many North Korean women are kidnapped and raped, and their half-Chinese, half-Korean children are left stateless. There would have been more activists at the protest, she said, but many churches wanted to protect their missionaries who are currently in North Korea aiding refugees.

The North Korea Freedom Coalition hosted the event and has been supported by many elected leaders such as President Barack Obama, former President George W. Bush and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While China is held to the 1951 Convention of the Status of Refugees, which obligates them to help refugees, North Korean defectors are not considered traditional refugees.

According to the Human Rights Brief, because North Koreans “are leaving for economic reasons and not because of persecution related to ‘race, religion, nationality, membership of a... social group or political opinion,’ China defines them as illegal economic migrants.”

Both during and after the protest, the Chinese Consulate had no comment. 

Reach reporter Judy L. Wang here and follow her on Twitter.



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