Ellery Saluck


The concept of the North Korean defector is so pervasive that it tends to eclipse the legal reality: she is also a refugee. While the urgent economic prerogative for defecting has waned since the widespread North Korean famine of the 1990s, North Koreans continue to escape for various reasons, such as seeking a better standard of living, enjoying freedom of movement, and pursuing freedom of political and religious affiliation. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) legislates serious, and even fatal, retribution for the crime of defecting. Yet, Chinese authorities refuse to acknowledge the refugee sur place status of the thousands of North Korean escapees that reach its borders. In turn, the Chinese government continues to deport refugees back to North Korea, where they are likely to face human rights abuses. In forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees, China has violated the non-refoulement principles in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and Protocol and the UN Convention against Torture, treaties to which China is a party.