A gathering of some 30 people gathered in front of the Embassy of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday night, protesting the Chinese government's repatriation of North Korean refugees.
The candlelight protest was a scheduled part of the North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW), a week-long event taking place from April 26 to May 7 to spread greater awareness of the condition of North Korea hosted by the North Korea Freedom Coalition.
The names of hundreds of North Korean refugees who fled to China, only to be repatriated into North Korea, were read at the gathering, and participants expressed that the reality that these repatriated refugees face at their return to North Korea is torture or death. Carrying candles and singing 'Arirang,' a Korean song often used in association with North Korea, those who were gathered circled the embassy with hopes that refugees would no longer be forcibly repatriated into the regime.
"We are here today on behalf of those who were sacrificed due to China's disregard in keeping the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees," said Suzanne Scholte, the chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is a UN document that enumerates who is a refugee and the rights of refugees. In regards to repatriation, it states:
"No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion."
"If China simply follows the standards of the Convention, so much change could happen in just one day," Scholte said. "We call on the People's Republic of China to stop repatriating refugees, and condemn them for participating in North Korea's anti-humanitarian actions."
One of those in the gathering, Arah Joo, was a refugee who had been repatriated into North Korea.
"I fled from the country in February of 2007, but was arrested in July," Joo said. "I fled for my life, to survive. There was no reason for me to be arrested. China is doing the same thing as North Korea -- arresting and detaining innocent North Korean people. They know that once we are repatriated, we would be tortured in various ways. In prison, I met a 12-year-old child who said that she and her mother were both arrested, but the officers separated them. We don't flee to China expecting much -- we're just hungry. And I call on China to stop forcefully repatriating refugees only to face brutal torture or death."
"In this park, there is a statue of a goddess who symbolizes tragedy," said Gregory Stanton, who suggested the rally. "And we are gathered here to also express a tragedy that is occurring. Let us pay tribute to the innocent lives that were taken. Communism says that God is dead. But the ones who are dead is not God, but Mao Zedong and Kim Il-Sung. God is alive."