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Update on NK Boat People & Humanitarian Aid Workers

Most Were Repatriated to North Korea
Grandmother Tortured to Death

March 28, 2003

A report reached Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) on March 28, regarding the North Korean refugees and the three humanitarian aid workers who were arrested by the Chinese authorities in Yantai, Shandong Province as they were about to leave China by boat in January this year.

The report comes from Mr. Kim, one of the group who managed to avoid the repatriation.

During the regular press conference held by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately after the incident, the media officer said that the incident would be dealt with on a humanitarian basis in accordance with domestic and international laws.

The reported facts, however, differ drastically from the media officer's statement. Several of the refugees have been forcibly returned to North Korea and at least one of them was tortured to death.

We of the LFNKR strongly protest the Chinese government's inhumane treatment of the North Korean refugees and humanitarian aid workers as well as its disregard for and violation of international law.

According to Kim's report, around 7 A.M. on January 18, the Security officers in Yantai detained Mr. Choi Yong-hun, a Korean NGO humanitarian aid worker, Mr. Seok Jae-hyun , a journalist, and a total of 15 males and females who came from Wangjing, Yanji, Tumen and Longjing in Jilin Province.

After interrogation, all but six of the detained people were sent from Dandong in Liaoning Province to Sinuiju in North Korea in three groups on Jan. 25, 27 and 30. The six not sent to Sinuiju were Choi Yong-hun, Seok Jae-hyun, Park Yong-ho, Kim Myong Chol, Chu Hun Kuk and another Korean Chinese.

The thirty people who were repatriated included an old woman, Kim Un Kum (73), and returnees to North Korea from Japan, Ko Jong Mi (44) and her daughter, Lee Yu Son (22).

This report was brought to us by Mr. Kim, a man in his late thirties from Hamgyongbukto, who formerly worked at a hospital. He took Kim Un Kum (73) from Myongchon, Hamgyongbukto in North Korea on December 23, 2002, and accompanied other people to Yanji, Dalian and Yantai. The group included 11 persons, namely, Kim Un Kum (73), Kim Myong Chol (39), Park Ran Hee (40), Kim Kum Ok (44), Kim Hyang Hwa (21), Kim Son Hee (43), Be Kwang Myong (18), Pee Okk Ju (16), Chu Hun Kuk (48), Sin Yong Hee (18) and Kim Yong ho (35).

The report includes testimony that torture and violence were used during the interrogations by the Chinese police.

In the boat people incident, the Chinese police sent back a total of 30 people to Sinuiju, North Korea where they were interrogated again individually. After the interrogations, they are sent to the temporary detention centers located in Kimchek, Hamhung and Onsong in the provinces from which they originally came, and interrogated yet again to set sentencing and punishment. Depending on the sentences, they could be sent to people's courts, labor camps, correctional institutions or political prison camps, or even publicly executed. No one sent to a political prison camp ever comes out alive. If they fail to fulfill a given daily quota, they are not allowed to rest until the quota is reached. In every case, severe punishment awaits them.

Below is the remainder of the report by Kim, who managed to escape the repatriation:

Around 6:30 P.M. on Jan. 17, border guards carrying video cameras rushed into our hiding place. They held me down and began a search of the house. After the search, the border guards put us in their vehicle to take us to their station in Yantai, a drive of about 20 minutes. Pee Okk Ju and the grandma remained in the house. When we arrived at the border guard station, we found Be Kwang Myong and the captain there. After about an hour and a half, Kim Yong Ho, Choun Hyang Hwa and Be Kwang Myong's mother were surrounded and arrested by thirty border guards.

At dawn on Jan. 17, Be Kwang Myong and the captain, who were asleep in the boat, were arrested and detained in a Han Chinese house. That same morning, Park came to the boat, where he was arrested and also locked in the same house where Be Kwang Myong and the captain were being held. Next, they were sent to the border guard station in Yantai.

Park yielded to the beatings and threats by the border guards and confessed where we were hiding and told them the schedule of Choi Yong-hun. A meal followed the interrogation at the border guard station on Jan. 19, then we were pushed into three vehicles and sent to a lockup where the males were placed in two cells and the females in two other cells. Then, Choi Yong-hun, Seok Jae-hyun, Park Yong-ho, the captain and Chu Hun Kuk were handcuffed and put in a separate cell. At this time, Choi Yong-hun told us that we did not have to be afraid of anything, because people in South Korea already knew about this incident. The border guards handcuffed the North Korean people and sent them to a lockup; they were not even allowed to put on their jackets.

When we were interrogated, we pleaded with the interrogators to let us go to South Korea, because we would be killed if we were sent back to North Korea. The Yantai border guard chief responded that they would not send us back to North Korea. This turned out to be a lie.

Daily details following our arrest:
Jan. 23: Nine of the eleven with whom I stayed were interrogated (Grandma and Pee Okk Ju were not). Chu Hun Kuk encouraged us by saying that the people in South Korea know about us. In the evening, the returnees to North Korea from Japan, Ko Jong Mi (44) and her daughter, Lee Yu Son (22) learned about us, and gave themselves up. They were put in the women's cell, and they told us that there had been an uproar since the world found out what happened to us.

Jan. 24: At around 8:00 P.M., the Yantai border guard chief had us separated into three buses, with two plainclothes guards for each of us. They took us to Yantai Port, and placed us in a boat bound for Dalian at 10:00 P.M.

Jan. 25: At 4:40 A.M., we arrived at Dalian. Under the supervision of the chief again, we were separated into three buses. Border guards driving a Volvo led our buses and we were accompanied by more than 100 plainclothes guards. It took 5 hours and 40 min. before we arrived at the Dandong border guard station on the bank opposite Sinuiju, North Korea at 10:40 A.M. During the transfer by bus from Yantai to Dalian, the returnee (the mother) to North Korea from Japan swallowed buttons and her ring in an attempt to kill herself. The escort guards totally ignored her though she was in great agony. They took her to Dandong. At the Dandong border guard station, our hands and legs were cuffed and then we were sent up to the second-floor lockup.

We were separated into male and female groups and strip searched. After inspections, they removed all buttons and zippers from our cloths and pushed us, still naked, into cells. They called us out one by one for interrogation.

The interrogators told us that we would face serious trouble if we were to sent back to North Korea, because we were arrested while trying to reach South Korea. They told us to fill the charge sheets with brief details, skipping the description of our attempt to escape to South Korea.
The last I heard, Kim Un Kum (73) who was sent back to North Korea had been tortured to death.

Submitted by:
Kenkichi Nakadaira
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
Representative: Kenkichi Nakadaira
A-101 Nishi Kata Hyteru
2-2-8 Nishi Kata, Bunkyo-ku
Tokyo, Japan 113-0024
Tel / Fax +81-3-3815-8127