19 June 2015

A policy paper published by the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) stresses that North Korean asylum seekers escaping grave human rights abuses cannot always find protection in South Korea. Therefore, when assessing their need for international protection, European countries must ensure that, if returned to South Korea, North Koreans will be granted citizenship.

The EAHRNK raises concerns over several European states that refuse to grant refugee status to North Korean asylum seekers, because they are considered to be citizens of South Korea (ROK). However, according to South Korean legislation, North Koreans are not automatically entitled to citizenship and the ROK government, in practice, is unable to ensure protection to all North Koreans, namely those fleeing through China.

The EAHRNK highlights that, with the support of European governments, the UN accused North Korea of crimes against humanity, due to grave human rights violations, including torture, sexual violence and physical and mental abuses. Due to this worrisome situation, since the late 1990s, a large number of North Koreans have fled the country and sought asylum in Europe, namely in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

Nevertheless figures show that in recent years the majority of North Koreans’ asylum claims in the EU have been rejected and they have been sent onto South Korea. The report gives as an example the case of a family with two children that in 2013 were refused asylum by the UK court because, though it was confirmed they risked persecution in North Korea, the government successfully argued that they should be considered South Korean nationals and be deported to South Korea.

The EAHRNK recommends European states, before refusing to grant refugee status to North Korean asylum-seekers, to make sure that they will be granted South Korean citizenship, once returned. Moreover, the Alliance encourages European countries to consider refugee status for North Koreans as part of a broader humanitarian response to protect North Korean citizens from the serious human right abuses of the government.

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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 19 June 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.