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14 March 2005

State Department Releases Report on North Korean Asylum Seekers

Analysis mandated by North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004

On March 11, the State Department publicly released the first of six reports mandated by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (NKHRA).  The report details the status of North Korean asylum seekers and U.S. government policy toward them. 

The NKHRA, signed into law by the president on October 18, 2004, is intended to address serious human rights issues in North Korea by:

-- Promoting a durable humanitarian solution for North Korean refugees;

-- Increasing monitoring, access and transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea;

-- Improving the free flow of information into and out of North Korea; and

-- Encouraging progress toward the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government. 

The legislation also provides for the appointment of a special envoy, who will be authorized to conduct bilateral discussions with the government of North Korea, to coordinate international efforts to promote human rights and democracy in North Korea, and to consult with nongovernmental organizations that work on human rights in North Korea.  Although no one has been appointed to this position yet, State Department officials expect that it will be filled soon.

In a brief executive summary of the first report, the State Department cautioned that, "the international community faces a dearth of verifiable information on the humanitarian status of North Koreans either inside or outside of North Korea, as well as information on the circumstances refugees face if they are forcibly returned to North Korea." 

State Department officials relied on interviews with experts, published reports, refugee testimony, input from U.S. diplomatic missions abroad, consultations with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, and discussions with foreign government officials in compiling the report. 

The full report is available online at: http://www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/rpt/43269.htm

Following is the text of the executive summary and a list of frequently asked questions:

(begin text)

The Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and U.S. Government Policy Towards Them

Released by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

March 11, 2005

Executive Summary

The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (NKHRA), signed by the President on October 18, 2004, seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea and promote durable solutions for refugees, transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of information, and progress towards the peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula. The Act mandates the appointment of a Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea and requires six different reports. On February 22, 2005, the Department of State submitted the first of these reports, entitled "The Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and the U.S. Policy Towards Them."

Key Highlights of the Report

The international community faces a dearth of verifiable information on the humanitarian status of North Koreans either inside or outside North Korea, as well as information on the circumstances refugees face if they are forcibly returned to North Korea.

Despite repeated approaches by the United States and others, China refuses to abide by its obligations as a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol to grant UNHCR access to North Koreans who seek asylum in China and to permit screenings of persons asserting a need for protection. The PRC insists that North Koreans in China are "economic migrants" who have no legitimate claim to refugee status. In 2004, several thousand North Koreans were reportedly detained and forcibly returned to North Korea, where many faced persecution and some may have been executed. At the same time, the discreet movement of North Korean nationals to the Republic of Korea (ROK) continues. Over 4,000 North Koreans resettled in the ROK between 2002 and 2004.

We have conducted a survey of U.S. embassies in Asia to determine the feasibility of funding new humanitarian assistance programs and establishing refugee admissions programs for North Koreans. Preliminary indications are that governments hosting North Korean refugees would oppose direct, U.S.-funded humanitarian assistance programs for North Koreans on their territories. One of the biggest challenges the United States faces in resettling North Korean asylum seekers in the United States is identifying reliable sources for U.S. agencies to complete required security background checks on North Korean applicants. The nature of the North Korean regime denies the U.S. government ready access to information on individual North Koreans. The State Department and Department of Homeland Security are studying mechanisms under which we could consider some North Korean refugees for resettlement in the United States.

(end text)

(begin text)

The Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and U.S. Government Policy Towards Them

Released by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration

March 11, 2005

Frequently Asked Questions About the Refugee Aspects of the North Korean Human Rights Act

The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (NKHRA), signed by the President on October 18, 2004, seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea and promote durable solutions for refugees, transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of information, and progress towards peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula. The Act mandates the appointment of a Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea and requests six different reports. On February 22, 2004, the State Department submitted the first of these reports, entitled "The Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and the U.S. Policy Towards Them."

The following are some frequently asked questions about the refugee-specific aspects of the NKHRA:

1. What is the United States doing to protect and assist North Korean refugees?

The United States has long been concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees. The United States vigorously and consistently urges China to adhere to its international obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol by not repatriating North Koreans to the DPRK before allowing the UNHCR access to individual members of this vulnerable population. The United States regularly discusses its concerns with China and other governments as well as with the UNHCR and concerned non-governmental and private groups.

Following the enactment of the NKHRA, U.S. embassies in Asia assessed the feasibility of funding new humanitarian assistance programs for North Koreans and establishing refugee admissions programs. Department of State and Department of Homeland Security representatives recently traveled to East Asia to review issues affecting North Korean refugees. A Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea will soon be appointed to coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of North Korea.

2. What is the purpose of the Act?

The NKHRA seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea, promote durable solutions for refugees, transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of information, and progress towards peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula.

3. What access do North Koreans have to the United States refugee admissions program?

Section 303 of the NKHRA provides that the Secretary of State shall "undertake to facilitate the submission of applications" by citizens of North Korea seeking protection as refugees. Currently, the procedures to consider a North Korean national for U.S. resettlement are the same as for nationals from most countries. The U.S. will consider for resettlement any North Korean that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determines is a refugee needing third-country resettlement and refers to the U.S. because the U.S. is the most appropriate resettlement country.

While most North Koreans who seek permanent resettlement will continue to find it in the Republic of Korea, we are currently exploring ways to establish mechanisms through which U.S. agencies would be able to vet North Korean applicants for the U.S. refugee program. The U.S. government will need to be able to complete all processing requirements - including the need for reliable sources of information in order to conduct required background checks on North Korean applicants. If and when new procedures are established for considering North Koreans for U.S. resettlement, the U.S. government will publicize the new guidelines.

4. How are refugees resettled in the United States?

The Department of State's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) has cooperative agreements with nine private voluntary agencies and one state government agency to provide initial resettlement services to arriving refugees. These services include housing, furnishing, and food for at least 30 days; referrals to health, employment and other services; airport reception and community orientation. The laws and regulations of each state govern the availability of welfare, Medicaid and other programs.

5. How many North Korean refugees will the United States government resettle and when will that take place?

Every year, the President establishes an overall ceiling and regional sub-ceilings for refugee admissions. There is no pre-determined number of North Koreans (or any other nationality) who will be admitted to the United States through the U.S. refugee program. No determination has yet been made for refugee admissions for FY06.

6. When is a Special Envoy going to be appointed and what will be the responsibilities of the position?

The Department of State expects to name a Special Envoy on Human Rights in North Korea shortly to coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of North Korea. The Envoy's mandate will include holding bilateral discussions with the Government of North Korea on human rights, supporting and coordinating international efforts to promote human rights and democracy in North Korea, and consulting with non-governmental organizations that have attempted to address human rights in the DPRK. The NKHRA requires that the Special Envoy issue a report to Congress on his or her activities by April 15, 2005.

7. What reports are required under the NKHRA?

The Act mandates six new reports and requires the State Department to add supplemental information to an existing annual report. Two required reports on the status of North Korean refugees and radio broadcasting in North Korea were submitted to Congress have already been submitted to Congress. Additional reports will cover the activities of the Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights (due April 15), humanitarian assistance for North Koreans (due April 15), actions to promote freedom of information (due October 18), and North Korean immigration information (due October 18). Information on access to the U.S. for those who have fled countries of particular concern will be added to the annual report to Congress on the President's Proposal for refugee admissions in the coming fiscal year. This report is normally issued no later than mid-September.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



This page printed from: http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2005&m=March&x=20050314123613asesuark0.2692072&t=livefeeds/wf-latest.html



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