A Korean parliamentary committee on Friday adopted a resolution demanding China stop repatriating North Korean defectors to their communist homeland.
The resolution came as a group of 34 defectors caught in China are reportedly at risk of being deported to the North, where they are feared to face harsh persecution and even execution.
The resolution submitted by Rep. Park Sun-young of the conservative minor Liberty Forward Party and signed by 29 lawmakers, passed through the National Assembly committee on foreign affairs and unification in its general meeting also attended by Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan.
After staging a hunger strike for several days in front of the Chinese Embassy in Seoul, a gaunt and weary-looking Park appealed to fellow lawmakers to approve the resolution to add pressure on China to stop sending refugees back to their homeland against their will.
"As the South Korean government has not actively expressed its opinion under the principle of 'quiet diplomacy' in the past, tens of thousands of defectors were forcefully repatriated to the North in the past two decades," Park said. "The parliament should end China's anti-humanitarian policies this time."
The resolution condemns Beijing's forced repatriation of defectors and calls on China to follow the international law on refugees when handling North Koreans who have fled their impoverished homeland.
It also demands that the parliament make efforts to help the stateless defectors and the South Korean government provide more assistance when they reach here.
More than 30 North Korean defectors were reportedly caught by Chinese authorities this month and have been awaiting repatriation to the North, according to multiple sources. Nine of them are believed to have already been repatriated over the weekend, informed sources said.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was evasive when asked whether China sent back the nine North Koreans to their homeland. He only repeated China's official stance that Beijing has been handling the issue of North Korean defectors in accordance with domestic and international laws as well as humanitarian principles.
Seoul has repeatedly called on Beijing not to deport North Korean defectors to their communist homeland, and has grown frustrated with Beijing's longstanding policy of turning a blind eye to its calls.
President Lee Myung-bak earlier this week said in a news conference that China should follow international norms in handling North Korean defectors.
In Geneva, the UN refugee agency said it is encouraging all concerned parties to find a viable humanitarian solution regarding the detained North Koreans.
UNHCR has "called upon the Chinese government to uphold the non-refoulement principle," the refugee agency said in a press release posted on its website, referring to a principle in international law that prohibits the return of refugees to places where their lives or freedom could be threatened.
As North Korea's key ally and benefactor, China is bound by a treaty with the North to repatriate the defectors, seeing them as illegal economic migrants, not refugees. (Yonhap)