Cambodia and DPRK emigration

Sebastian Strangio points out a few interesting facts in the Asia Times about DPRK defection through Cambodia:

1. The Cambodian government has quietly worked to facilitate the processing of North Koreans as they move onto South Korea.

According to the US cables, the processing of North Korean arrivals is done in a quiet, ad hoc manner. In an October 2006 dispatch (06PHNOMPENH1927), Om Yentieng, one of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s advisors, was quoted as saying that the processing of North Koreans in Cambodia was “the result of an understanding reached between the prime minister and the South Korean ambassador to Cambodia”.

Secrecy was clearly a priority for the South Koreans. In a July 2007 cable (07PHNOMPENH925) documenting a meeting between South Korean and US officials to discuss the fate of five North Korean refugees in Cambodia who were seeking resettlement in the US, the South Koreans were “preoccupied with conveying their desire that the ROK [Republic of Korea – South Korea] pipeline for North Korean refugees not be publicly revealed”. They also demanded it remain separate from Washington’s own North Korean “refugee processing pipeline”.

A dispatch from April 2008 (08PHNOMPENH316) expressed gratitude to Cambodian officials for “expeditiously processing” the exit permits of two North Korean individuals who departed for the US on April 16. American officials were also “impressed” at Cambodian immigration officials’ “discreet handling” of the cases of another group of North Koreans who departed the previous November.

“During the quiet November departure, no one at the airport noticed the North Koreans’ comings and goings,” it stated. (According to figures released by the Office of Immigration Statistics at the Department of Homeland Security in May, the US resettled more than 100 North Korean refugees between 2006 and 2010 under legislation to help improve human rights conditions in the reclusive country.)

2. Cambodia is no longer a major hub in the underground railraod.  Thailand is now the prefered destination.

It appears, however, that Cambodia has since declined in importance as a conduit for North Korean defectors in favor of a route through Laos into northern Thailand. Pastor Chun Ki-won, head of the Seoul-based refugee aid group Durihana said that Cambodia – along with Mongolia – was one of the few Asian countries willing to aid North Koreans at the start of the 2000s when refugee flows were still relatively low.

Durihana has helped around 900 North Korean defectors reach South Korea over the years. Chun’s first aid mission, which he undertook in July 2001, involved the smuggling of a North Korean woman and her child from northeast China to Phnom Penh via Vietnam. Cambodia increased in importance after December 2001, Chun said, when he was arrested in a Chinese crackdown trying to smuggle a group of refugees across the Mongolian border.

Chun said that due to increased vigilance by Vietnamese authorities, most North Korean refugees now arrive in Southeast Asia via Laos and Thailand. The claim is mirrored in figures from the Thai Immigration Bureau which reveal a 50-fold increase in North Korean arrivals from Laos, from 46 in 2004 – around the time arrivals in Cambodia seem to have begun their decline – to 2,482 in 2010. 870 North Korean refugee arrivals have already been recorded between January and April of this year.

In a 2006 cable from the US consulate in Chiang Mai (06CHIANGMAI79), one official predicted that the increase in North Korean refugee arrivals – then still fairly contained – “may yet be the tip of the iceberg”. “[E]vidence suggests that the stream of refugees is unlikely to decrease, with a network of Christian missionary organizations in Thailand and southern China cooperating to bring in more refugees through Yunnan province, Burma [Myanmar], and Laos and into Thailand’s Chiang Rai province,” the cable stated.

Read the full story here:
All aboard North Korea’s refugee railroad
Asia Times
Sebastian Strangio
2011-8-3

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