New border laws will present more severe challenges to North Korean defectors seeking to flee to China.
Beijing passed a new Land Borders Law in response to long-standing territorial disputes, and concerns about the spread of Covid.
While the law’s main focus is on territorial disputes with neighboring countries like India, it also includes specific language that can be applied to migrants. DiplomatReports
The new law provides: “The state shall take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines territorial sovereignty and land boundaries.”
This will likely encourage Chinese law enforcement officials to continue rejecting, detaining or forcibly repatriating North Koreans trying to defect under the guise “protecting national security”.
China routinely repatriates North Korean refugees despite its being a signatory to the 1951 convention relative to the status refugees and to the 1987 protocol.
The communist government disregards its legal obligations to North Korean refugees. It denies them legitimate refugee status and instead labels them as illegal. “economic migrants”, allegedly due to North Korea’s historic food and financial struggles.
Instead, Beijing has chosen to honor a 1986 bilateral agreement to Pyongyang that outlawed illegal border crossings in order to legalise forced repatriation for North Korean defectors.
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North Korean defectors who are repatriated face severe punishments, including torture, forced labour, and public execution.
Human Rights Watch and the UN have both asked China to reconsider its policy towards North Korean refugees. Beijing, however, is not likely to comply, since it still views the influx of refugees in its country as a threat.