North Korea’s reach into Southeast Asia

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North Korean defectors Thailand1
North Korean defectors get detained by Chinese soldiers

North Korea has a greater presence in Southeast Asia that many may think. A new museum largely funded by Pyongyang that opened last December in Cambodia just brought this fact back to attention again. It adds to the large and representative embassy North Korea has in Phnom Penh, but also in its communist sister countries of Laos and Vietnam. It is also known that Laos cooperates with North Korea in the repatriation of North Korean defectors who take the route from China via Laos to Thailand to reach the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

This March, North Korean and Lao security agencies signed an agreement, North Korean state media announced, which observers believe to have been set up to tackle exactly this issue of North Korean defectors crossing through Laos and could in essence be an outright extradition treaty similar to the ones North Korea signed with China and, as of late, with Russia.

North Korean defectors Thailand
North Koreans crossing the Mekong into Thailand

It is a well-known fact that refugees from North Korea, after crossing secretly into China, manage to travel to China’s southeastern province of Yunnan and from there move into Laos and further on to Thailand, where they present themselves to immigration officers as early as in Chiang Rai or after crossing the Mekong River to Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Bung Kan with the hope to get transferred to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

There, they can apply for asylum which they normally are granted. Under the constitution of South Korea, North Korean citizens are recognised as South Korean nationals, unless they have a criminal record. Some refugees reportedly pay brokers as much as $3,000 to be smuggled into Thailand, and South Korean brokers are assumed to play an important role in trafficking process.

According to Lee Hyeon-seo, a North Korean defector and social activist who recently gave a speech in Bangkok, around 90 per cent of North Koreans seeking asylum in South Korea take this route through Thailand. Others try it via Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar or Mongolia.

“As far as I know, Thailand is the only country that protects North Korean defectors and guarantees to send them to South Korea,” she said.

North_Korean_defector_routes_map
Escape routes: Thailand is a hub for North Korean defectors seeking asylum in South Korea

The current number of North Koreans entering Thailand from Laos is around 2,000 a year and rising, according to immigration sources.

No wonder that Pyongyang now tries to cut off this escape route in befriended Laos. The countries established diplomatic ties in 1974 and since good maintained relations and sought cooperation in trade and technology.

However, United Nations officials said the government of Laos would be as well pressured globally if the agreement is found out to be an outright extradition treaty because the country signed and ratified the UN convention against torture, which bans every country from extraditing a person to where they would be in danger of being subject to torture which is highly likely the case if North Korean refugees get repatriated.

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

North Korean defectors get detained by Chinese soldiers

North Korea has a greater presence in Southeast Asia that many may think. A new museum largely funded by Pyongyang that opened last December in Cambodia just brought this fact back to attention again. It adds to the large and representative embassy North Korea has in Phnom Penh, but also in its communist sister countries of Laos and Vietnam. It is also known that Laos cooperates with North Korea in the repatriation of North Korean defectors who take the route from China via Laos to Thailand to reach the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

Reading Time: 3 minutes

North Korean defectors Thailand1
North Korean defectors get detained by Chinese soldiers

North Korea has a greater presence in Southeast Asia that many may think. A new museum largely funded by Pyongyang that opened last December in Cambodia just brought this fact back to attention again. It adds to the large and representative embassy North Korea has in Phnom Penh, but also in its communist sister countries of Laos and Vietnam. It is also known that Laos cooperates with North Korea in the repatriation of North Korean defectors who take the route from China via Laos to Thailand to reach the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

This March, North Korean and Lao security agencies signed an agreement, North Korean state media announced, which observers believe to have been set up to tackle exactly this issue of North Korean defectors crossing through Laos and could in essence be an outright extradition treaty similar to the ones North Korea signed with China and, as of late, with Russia.

North Korean defectors Thailand
North Koreans crossing the Mekong into Thailand

It is a well-known fact that refugees from North Korea, after crossing secretly into China, manage to travel to China’s southeastern province of Yunnan and from there move into Laos and further on to Thailand, where they present themselves to immigration officers as early as in Chiang Rai or after crossing the Mekong River to Nong Khai, Nakhon Phanom and Bung Kan with the hope to get transferred to the South Korean embassy in Bangkok.

There, they can apply for asylum which they normally are granted. Under the constitution of South Korea, North Korean citizens are recognised as South Korean nationals, unless they have a criminal record. Some refugees reportedly pay brokers as much as $3,000 to be smuggled into Thailand, and South Korean brokers are assumed to play an important role in trafficking process.

According to Lee Hyeon-seo, a North Korean defector and social activist who recently gave a speech in Bangkok, around 90 per cent of North Koreans seeking asylum in South Korea take this route through Thailand. Others try it via Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar or Mongolia.

“As far as I know, Thailand is the only country that protects North Korean defectors and guarantees to send them to South Korea,” she said.

North_Korean_defector_routes_map
Escape routes: Thailand is a hub for North Korean defectors seeking asylum in South Korea

The current number of North Koreans entering Thailand from Laos is around 2,000 a year and rising, according to immigration sources.

No wonder that Pyongyang now tries to cut off this escape route in befriended Laos. The countries established diplomatic ties in 1974 and since good maintained relations and sought cooperation in trade and technology.

However, United Nations officials said the government of Laos would be as well pressured globally if the agreement is found out to be an outright extradition treaty because the country signed and ratified the UN convention against torture, which bans every country from extraditing a person to where they would be in danger of being subject to torture which is highly likely the case if North Korean refugees get repatriated.

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