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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

U.S. Department of State The Status of North Korean Asylum Seekers and the U.S. Government Policy Towards Them

[ ... ]

Section 301(b)(3) - Assessment of North Korean Access to U.S. Refugee and Asylum Processing and U.S. Policy Towards North Koreans Who Seek Refuge at U.S. Embassies and Consulates and Resettlement in the U.S.

The United States has long been concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees. We are deeply troubled by reports of the involuntary return of North Koreans from China to North Korea, as these returnees often face serious abuses, including the possibility of torture and execution. The United States consistently urges China to adhere to its international obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol by not refouling North Koreans in China before allowing the UNHCR access to individual members of this vulnerable population. The United States regularly discusses its concerns with China, South Korea, and other governments as well as with the UNHCR and concerned non-governmental and private groups.

We note that there are several key challenges to implementing section 303 of the NKHRA. North Koreans cannot easily access UNHCR's office or the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China because of China's extensive security presence. Following September 11, 2001, China established security measures to enable its authorities to screen people entering U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities in China, thereby preventing the entry of non-American citizens who either appear to be a security threat or hold questionable identification. On two separate visits to Beijing in August 2003 and November 2004, Assistant Secretary of State Arthur E. Dewey appealed to China to allow UNHCR access to the North Korean population in China and indicated the USG's willingness to assist in facilitating the movement of North Korean refugees to third countries. China refused, insisting that North Koreans in China are economic migrants. The Department has also engaged UNHCR on this matter to ensure that it is doing what it can to protect and assist North Koreans.

Primarily due to the nature of the North Korean regime, the USG has almost no ready access to information on individual North Koreans. At the same time, North Korea has long been designated a state sponsor of terrorism. In order to provide North Korean asylum seekers access to U.S. resettlement, reliable sources must be established to enable U.S. agencies to complete required background checks on North Korean applicants. As noted in the House International Relations Committee Report No. 108-478, South Korea would be the most likely partner in this endeavor. We are currently working with South Korea toward the development of an appropriate process for vetting North Korean applicants.

Attempts at illegal entry by North Koreans into U.S. diplomatic and consular facilities pose serious security risks and other challenges to our missions abroad and would also put the asylum seekers in significant danger. The enhanced security perimeter at all overseas posts, designed to protect U.S. nationals and other employees from terrorist attacks, necessarily presents physical obstacles against unauthorized entry. Any illegal intrusions by force or stealth are presumptively regarded as hostile until determined otherwise. Out of concern for the safety of all persons involved, the Department of State strongly discourages attempts by unauthorized persons to enter U.S. facilities illegally.

Section 301(b)(4) - Number of North Koreans Admitted Into the U.S. in Each of Past Five Years

In the past five years, no North Koreans were resettled by the U.S. refugee admissions program. According to the Department of Justice, five North Koreans were granted asylum in FY2002, three in FY2003 and one in FY2004 by immigration courts during removal proceedings. These figures do not include decisions under appeal.

Section 301(b)(5) - Estimate of Number of North Koreans With Family Connections to U.S. Citizens

Despite our inquiries, we have identified no entity with a capability for determining the number of North Koreans with relatives who are U.S. citizens.

Section 301(b)(6) - Measures Being Taken to Implement Section 303

Section 303 of the NKHRA provides that "the Secretary of State shall undertake to facilitate the submission of applications under section 207 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1157) by citizens of North Korea seeking protection as refugees (as defined in section 101(a)(42) of such Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(42))."

Historically, when UNHCR and the international community have considered third-country resettlement of North Koreans, South Korea was determined to be the resettlement country of choice in virtually all cases. Under its Constitution, South Korea grants citizenship to resettled North Koreans within a few months of their arrival on its territory - a vastly superior legal status than would be accorded to North Koreans resettled in any other country as refugees. North Koreans also share a common language, ethnicity, and history with South Koreans. Some have family ties there. In addition, South Korea provides North Koreans with a generous package of benefits upon arrival to facilitate rapid integration.

Since enactment of the NKHRA, the Department of State has consulted with the Department of Homeland Security and the Government of South Korea to explore mechanisms through which some North Korean refugees might be considered for resettlement in the United States. A delegation of representatives from the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs (EAP) and the Department of Homeland Security Citizenship and Immigration Services traveled to Beijing and Seoul January 31 to February 4, 2005, to further cooperation on this effort. The procedures under discussion would allow the United States to accept North Korean refugees who have a compelling reason for resettling in the United States rather than in South Korea or elsewhere and would include information sharing between the USG and the South Korean Government to help address security concerns. We will continue to work with South Korea, other governments and international organizations to develop the appropriate mechanisms to allow the resettlement of some North Korean nationals in the United States as refugees.

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1For purposes of this Report, we refer to all North Korean nationals who have sought, or who are seeking or will seek to depart North Korea in order to seek residence in another state as "refugees," regardless of their technical legal status and regardless of whether they are inside or outside North Korea, unless otherwise specified.



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