We are sad to convey that the North Korean refugees that had been detained in China have been forcibly sent back to North Korea.
The group, numbering at least 31, included a teenager whose older brother and sister were already in South Korea, a father with his daughter, a mother and her two children, an elderly woman of 70 years old whose daughter was waiting for her in Seoul, and a child of just 5 years old.
Our North Korean refugee friends consistently tell us that they fear for their lives when they leave the country, but they do so in the hope of escaping extreme impoverishment and government repression, and for some, to have the chance to reunite with their family members in South Korea.
We know from our partners on the ground that security has recently been heightened on both sides of the North Korea-China border. This has made it even more dangerous for North Korean people to try to escape the country and has also made it more difficult for North Korean refugees hiding in China to travel on to countries where they can safely resettle.
The relatives of the repatriated refugees first tried to secure their release through quiet diplomacy. It was only when it became apparent that the Chinese authorities would imminently be sending the refugees back that the issue was publicized in a desperate last ditch effort to save them. What started as a small campaign in South Korea quickly grew and garnered an unprecedented level of attention from the international community, and over 175,000 people from around the world joined to voice their support for the 'Save My Friend' campaign. Despite this, the Chinese government decided to side with the leadership in Pyongyang and repatriate the refugees.
We are extremely saddened that the Chinese government has taken this course of action. The North Korean people are currently suffering from even more restrictions during the transitional period and the new leadership is reportedly ordering even harsher punishments for attempted defectors and their relatives. By actively cracking down and forcibly sending North Korean refugees back to face severe punishment, the Chinese government is making itself complicit in North Korea's horrific human rights abuses.
We have been moved by the strength of compassion that has been shown around the world for the North Korean refugees. We believe it is more important now than ever to come alongside the North Korean people, to advocate for them, and to demonstrate to the Chinese authorities that people and governments all over the world are increasingly concerned and are willing to stand up for the basic human rights of North Korean refugees.
In our dedication to the North Korean people, we will also continue to work directly with our partners and staff on the ground to help North Korean refugees leave China and make it safely to countries that will protect them.
The LiNK staff