As my wife Anita and I were taking photos outside the White House on Monday, we noticed several Korean women among the protesters. Our eyes met and we exchanged pleasant smiles but we continued down the sidewalk, weaving in between tourists who maneuvered for the best selfie spot.
After we took a few photos ourselves, one of the women – Eumi – sought us out. She was there, carrying placards with her friend to draw attention to the 2,600 North Koreans who had fled to China and were being silently returned to North Koera’s despotic regime and unimaginable atrocities.
She described how after being repatriated, people’s money is seized, pregnant women are subjected to forced abortions, and their young children might even be killed. They are also sent to political prisoner camps, where they frequently perish from exhaustion, famine, or disease, or are executed under the guise of a minor crime.
“Those who possessed Bibles in China or attended church services are charged with espionage and singled out for some of the worst treatment,” she declared.
I was dimly able to recall reading something about the predicament of these people, and when I got back to the hotel scoured online news sources to corroborate her claims.
Eumi and the other female Korean protesters are part of a grassroots effort bringing attention to the issue. It it is coming to a head this week with the commemoration on Sunday, Sept. 25th of the 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The event is a collaboration between political, religious, and human rights organizations around the globe.
The concern of Eumi and her friend is based on their Christian faith, she told us. They’re with the Esther Prayer Movement and are just two of the thousands of people praying and silently protesting at Chinese embassies in numerous nations as well as high-profile sites like the White House this week.
But, she said, it’s an uphill battle to get attention and to force governments to apply pressure on China.
The Asian Games, which will begin on September 23 in Hangzhou, China, will bring money and prestige to the communist nation. It’s similar world’s decision to remain silent while ethnic Yuighurs were being subjected to genocide during the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. According to Eumi, this is another horror being ignored by the world.
The two women were happy when we engaged them and their cause. They asked us to help spread the word of the Korean defectors, many of whom are Christians.
The protesters have been making progress this year. Human rights advocates and former government officials accuse Beijing of breaking both Chinese and international laws through these repatriations.
The Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC), headed by U.S. Representative Chris Smith, claims that these North Korean defectors are being kept at the Chinese border “awaiting imminent forced repatriation” by a government that has refused to offer them protection.
Smith confirmed the reports of what was awaiting the individuals upon their return during a June hearing.
China’s actions are in contradiction to it being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, according to Ethan Hee-seok Shin, a legal analyst with the Transitional Justice Working Group in Seoul.
In a statement provided for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China Hearing on North Korean Refugees and the Imminent Danger of Forced Repatriation from China, Shin said that Beijing has even disregarded Article 32 of its own constitution, which states that China “may grant asylum to foreigners who request it on political grounds.”
The CECC claims Beijing preventing the organization from contacting North Korean refugees and checking on their status.
Liu Pengyu is spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington and claims that anti-China forces are “fabricating information and making careless comments and accusations about China’s social system and the pertinent policies,” he stated. “Its language is filled with prejudice and stupidity.”
Robert R. King, a senior adviser and former Special Envoy for North Korean human rights issues with the U.S. Department of State from 2009 to 2017, says China’s claims are ludicrous. He testified at the same June CECC hearing.
“For Koreans who want to leave North Korea, the easiest and safest route out of the North is through China, though this route can only be considered “easy” and “safe” relative to other more dangerous and risky escape options,” he stated.
The world needs to exert more pressure on China, according to King, to prevent Beijing from “returning North Koreans to certain punishment and in far too many cases certain death.”
Eumi’s conversation turned to prayer as she stood with us in the late afternoon sun, the White House fountain sparkling in the background. She put her hand on Anita’s elbow, “Can you help us spread the word and ask for the prayers of believers?” It wasn’t a casual remark; rather, it was a pleading from deep in her soul.
“Time is running out” she said.
On Sept. 18, China rejected South Korea’s demand to stop the repatriation of the defectors.
If you would like to contact your Representative in Washington, call the Capitol. A U.S. Capitol Switchboard operator can also connect you directly with the Senate office: 202-224-3121.
–Dwight Widaman is editor of Metrovoicenews.com.