Thursday, August 24, 2006

Are You Serious? Thailand Fines North Korean Aslyum Seekers

North Korean refugees in China try to enter a Japanese embassy. (Film still courtesy of Incite Productions) - Image and caption taken from the UCLA Asia Institute website.

I was about to call it a day and tuck myself in, BUT this BBC News headline caught my eye: Thai court convicts North Koreans

Of course, I then ran a search for other articles and found an Associated Press article on the Washington Post, Thailand Charges N. Korea Asylum Seekers, which starts off by saying:

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thai authorities arrested and charged nearly 200 North Korean asylum seekers with illegal entry after they were smuggled into the country but they will not be forcibly deported, officials said Wednesday. (click here for the full article)
Huh?

Last I checked, Bangkok, Thailand has the UN there. That's sarcasm. I know they have a UN office as a friend, a classmate, of mine is interning there right now.

I know that Thailand is a place where North Koreans go to seek asylum and to get moved here to South Korea. However, I've never looked at the process or trends in detail.

I'm thinking the UN might be one big reason for the draw as well as the fact that getting to other countries in northeast Asia (China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan) is difficult to impossible. I'm sure also as there is now a history of other North Koreans getting to Thailand and seeking asylum there that Bangkok is the place to go.

The fact is having the UN in Bangkok, Thailand benefits Thailand tremendously and they're going to have to take the good with the bad just as other countries that host UN offices must.

I just think it's sad to attempt to stem this tide by throwing people who risked their lives, left their families and are seeking out a better life in jail. I mean it's a technicality as they were fined, but we all know these people cannot afford the 6,000 baht or around $160 USD fine.

I realize that this year the number of North Koreans seeking asylum jumped from 80 last year to 400 puts a strain on Thailand. However, I think discouraging North Korea asylum seekers is ridiculous. If you want the benefits of having a UN office in your country, you take what comes with it.

One solution might be an international fund to help Thailand handle the high numbers of North Koreans fleeing their country. Another might be a fund to help the North Koreans who are caught before they can reach a foreign embassy pay the fine.

I'm not sure; it's late...just past 2:30am here in Seoul. But this is one I'm going to think about because this one really frustrates me.

While thinking about it I reflected on the Underground Railroad and how hard it was for slaves to get to freedom during that time. Now I'm curious to find an answer to the question of whether any northern states fined and jailed runaway slaves? If anyone knows, give me some information and links. I'll get on that project tomorrow.

With that said, now it's time for some sleep.

Links to North Korean Refugee NGOs:
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees
Life Fund's links to other North Korean refugee NGOs

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