Release calls on China to stop deporting North Korean refugees

With the world's attention fixed on China for the Olympic Games, Release International has launched a petition calling for the fairer treatment of North Korean refugees.

The persecution watchdog says that China is deporting thousands of escapees back to reclusive communist country, where they face imprisonment, torture and even execution.

Release has launched a website to accompany the petition, Run for your Life, which features the harrowing stories of three such refugees.

"China is far from being a safe haven for the many who cross the border to escape famine and intense religious persecution," the group said this week.

"In China they have to run the gauntlet of human traffickers, government informers and secret police.

"Those caught face forced repatriation - returning to brutal interrogation, jail or death."

In spite of the dangers, thousands of North Koreans are still willing to attempt the escape from their repressive homeland via the so-called 'underground railroad' route to countries of refuge.

China's deportation of North Korean refugees is a violation of the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, says Release.

It hopes the petition will put pressure on the Chinese Government to acknowledge the refugee status of North Korean escapees instead of regarding them as economic migrants. The petition also calls an immediate halt to forced repatriation.

Andy Dipper, head of Release, said: "During the Olympic Games many North Koreans are also running for their lives - literally. We are urging the Chinese Government to act compassionately to the many men, women and children who risk all to flee one of the world's most repressive regimes."

Tim Peters of Release partner Helping Hands Korea has assisted many refugees to freedom along the 'underground railroad' and has set up safe houses.

He says: "Religious persecution is absolute inside North Korea. Christians outside the few state-run 'show churches' are not allowed to have a Bible and are forbidden to gather.

"If it is revealed that a family is Christian, then not only the one who has committed this state crime would be taken off to a political prison camp, but that individual's children, and their parents - three generations. This is possibly the most severe Christian persecution that exists in the world."

Many of the refugees arrive in China without papers or contacts, leaving them wide open to exploitation by human traffickers, Release warns.

"We are asking the Chinese Government to bring an end to this by recognising the status of these refugees and to give them safe passage to the other countries they are risking all to reach," Dipper added.

"China, the world's eyes are on you," he said. "Now is the time to show compassion to the poorest of the poor. Help the North Korean refugees."

Release International supports Christians imprisoned for their faith and their families in 30 nations, including church workers, pastors and their families, and provides training, Bibles, Christian literature and broadcasts.

The petition and an A4 poster are available online at: www.runforyourlife.info/completed/your_help.html

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