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)

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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  1. you don't know me, but i absolutely agree with you on this. it also seems quite strange to me to jail these refugees for an additional 30 days for not being able to pay the fine. weird.

  2. I'm still up...insomnia, but I'll lie and say it's my neurons firing away. Yeah, that's sounds much better.

    Anyway, miah, thanks for your comment.

    I just think the Thai system is strained and maybe this is a passive-aggressive way to indicate that the Thai government needs help.

    I mean we can't forget that tons of money is probably still needed for Katrina rebuilding.

  3. This behavior is common in a lot of countries. When I lived in Australia for nine years I used to get really angry at the way they treated particularly people who would arrive by boat, literally risking their lives for a better life for their family only to wind up in an Australian government detention center. They could be there for 5 months, they could be there for 5 years.

    The thing is, most countries are signatores to the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and as part of this legally are supposed to give genuine refugees the right to seek refugee status.

    But governments use State sovereignty to weasel their way of of the Protocol, making it viritually moot.

    Stepping off soap box before I put anyone asleep...

  4. Good to see you back!

    Well, as an American, I know that the US turns its back refugees too.

    It's just that I end up writing about or looking at North Korean issues quite a bit. That's because of where I am, the Korean peninsula, and what I'm studying, international studies.

    It's just the though of relating to their struggle to get to Thailand and then hearing they got tossed in the pen makes me very sad.

  5. Yeah, I understand. It was the same for me. When I lived in Australia--which I only moved back from at the beginning of this year--I saw things from the perspective of others struggling in neighboring countries and islands.

    As a fellow American I know the US turns its back on refugees too. But per capita it does a much better, and much more humane job. Australia is one of the toughest in the world on genuine refugees.

    But the thing that really gets me mad is that they're only tough on refugees from countries where they really have difficulties. Australia lets people from America, Canada, and the UK overstay their visas for years without hardly ever raising an eyebrow. It's racist discrimination in my not so humble opinion

  6. By the way, when I think of you in Korea and I read the title of your blog I crack up every time :-)

  7. Well, I hope that most get the joke because it is a joke. It's just part of my humor.

    It's mostly because Korea isn't the first expat destination out there, but I don't think I would have done as well anywhere else.

  8. I totally get it. I don't think any of us, regardless of where we were born, expect to live in another country for a significant amount of time.

    I think it's natural to say with a bit of surprise and a smile every now and then, "how the hell did I wind up living in another country?"

    I don't know if I told you I spent a couple weeks in Korea and really loved the people there. I think they were the most hospitable culture I've ever been in.

  9. The Korean people are nice. Now sometimes it's a bit much, but when you're in their good graces, nothing is nicer. However, there are also some Koreans who are downright rude and nasty too. I avoid them as I avoid most people who irk me.

    It's fun to clown them though because they just assume I know not a lick of Korean. I don't know much by any stretch but I know enough to make a rude person feel like a fool.

  10. Well, actually Thailand is one of the better places for a North Korean refugee to turn up. The Thai government has often turned a blind eye to North Korean defectors’ illegal entry and their entry to a third country because of humanitarian reasons. Also, it maintains good relations with the Korean and U.S. governments, the defectors’ final destination.
    The Thai authorities feel the burden of the increasing number of North Korean defectors, however. “Rumor has it that 100,000 defectors in China plan to enter Thailand through a neighboring country, which I think is very serious,” Lt. Gen. Suwat Tumrongsiskul was quoted as saying. I'm not saying I'm agreeing with the fines, just stating it's better than they would have fared elsewhere in Asia.

  11. Thanks for your comment Grant!

    Well, I realize that Thailand is the destination of choice for a good reason. I just feel the humanitarian interest here is so compeling and they get the benefit of the UN on their soil, so Thailand should think of a more creative solution (NGOs, donations to cover the strain, etc.) to handle the upsurge in numbers.


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