South Korea passes resolution on North Korea refugees

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South Korean rights activists perform role of mock Chinese police and North Korean refugee outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul on 21 February, 2012
Image caption,
Activists have been staging protests outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul

South Korea's parliament has passed a resolution demanding that China stops the repatriation of North Korean refugees.

The move follows a string of protests over the fate of some 30 North Koreans who are reportedly facing deportation from China and harsh repercussions.

The resolution was backed by 154 lawmakers on Tuesday.

They also called on the United Nations and other bodies to put pressure on Beijing to follow international law.

It is estimated that more than 20,000 North Koreans have fled to the South since the 1950s. The majority of them escape via China.

China says that the North Koreans are "illegal economic migrants" who must be returned home. Its stand on the North Koreans is not a new policy - it has been sending back those it finds within its borders for many years.

But there is increased concern over the issue since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

Reports from inside North Korea say the country's new leader has issued a decree pledging to exterminate the families of anyone caught trying to flee, the BBC Lucy Williamson reports from Seoul.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak spoke out on the issue last week.

"When it comes to the North Korean defectors, it is right for the Chinese government to handle them in line with international rules as long as they are not criminals," he said.

South Korea reiterated its message at a meeting of the UN's refugee agency this week, urging all countries to refrain from exposing those in desperate situations to the risk of dire consequences, says our correspondent.

The North Koreans awaiting deportation were reportedly detained by Chinese authorities in separate incidents.

Unconfirmed reports last Friday said at least nine North Koreans had been deported from China. The South Korean foreign ministry, however, has not confirmed the repatriation reports. There was no word from China.