Worldwide protests to rally against China's 'flagrant' human rights violations

Demonstrations, petition drives, and prayer vigils will mark the "International Protest Against China's Violent Treatment of North Korea Refugees" on Friday and Saturday at Chinese consulates and embassies around the world, including Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, South Korea, the UK and the US.

"The demonstrations are a way of pressuring the Chinese Government to comply with their obligations under the UN Convention on Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol," said Lindsay Vessey, advocacy coordinator for Open Doors USA, which is a member of the North Korea Freedom Coalition.

"Under this convention, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) should have access to the North Koreans refugees hiding in China - estimated at 100,000 to 300,000 - and be able to protect and help them find asylum in other countries like the US and South Korea.

"Yet, China is deporting refugees back to North Korea where they face terrible punishment."

At least 500,000 North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years. Although the UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea considers the North Koreans who flee to China "refugees" deserving of protection, China has signed an agreement with its communist ally to return refugees back to North Korea where they face imprisonment, torture, and sometimes execution for leaving the country - a state crime.

China, in defense of its actions, has claimed North Koreans entering its country are "economic migrants" and not refugees and thus it has the right to return them.

"For several years both the Chinese and North Korean authorities have implemented measures to close the border," notes Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korean Freedom Coalition.

"Currently the Chinese authorities are working more aggressively with North Korean agents to hunt down and repatriate the North Korean refugees.

"We have heard several reports that North Korean agents are posing as refugees to draw out both humanitarian workers and true refugees as part of this escalating crackdown. Even refugees in jail are being used as 'bait' to draw out potential rescuers, so that Chinese authorities can arrest them," she said.

North Korea is currently one of the most repressive regimes in the world and is ranked by the ministry Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians. Citizens of the communist state are forced to adhere to a personality cult that revolves around worshipping current dictator Kim Jong Il and his deceased father, Kim Il Sung.

Human rights activists have urged people not to travel to Beijing to attend the 2008 Olympics unless China grants the United Nation's refugee agency, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), access to North Koreans hiding in its territory.

"The Chinese government needs to know that Christians around the world are aware and care about the government's flagrant human rights violations and that we are committed to praying and assisting these refugees," adds Scholte.

She is urging people from around the world to join those who are protesting against the injustice and praying for the refugees, many of whom are Christians.

"We need everyone to join and support these events as the situation in China is worse than ever for North Korean refugees," she says. "Some cities will deliver petitions; some will stage protests and demonstrations. Wherever you are in the world, please take part in this effort.

"Please remember the suffering of the North Korean refugees and take a stand for them so that together we can help end the most avoidable human rights tragedy occurring in the world today."

Demonstrations will also take place in Belgium, Holland and Norway.