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Petition for supporting North Korean defectors in Canada

This petition had 303 supporters

November 20, 2017

The Hon, Ahmed Hussen

Minister of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship

House of Commons

Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6



Rokbong Kim, President,

 Canada Federation of North Korean Defectors

(416) 890-0670


This letter is being written in response to the form letter sent out on October 30, 2017 by C. McCormick of the IRCC to all North Korean defectors living in Canada. McCormick’s letter referred to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act in justifying the rejection of all North Korean convention refugee claims. Specifically, McCormick’s letter explained that North Korean refugee claims are regarded as invalid because North Koreans are considered South Korean citizens by the government of the Republic of Korea. We would like to explain in detail why North Korean refugee claims are in fact valid.

We are the Canada Federation of North Korean Defectors, and we represent all North Korean refugee claimants living in Canada. We take McCormick’s letter very seriously, and we would like to express the deep concern that the letter has caused in our community.

Since all North Korean defectors are faced with the same uniform denial of their claims by the IRCC, we would like to explain the basic facts of the general situation as clearly as possible for the purposes of fairness and objectivity.


First, McCormick’s letter states that, “the Republic of Korea’s government’s position is that North Korean-born persons are deemed nationals of the Republic of Korea unless the North Korean-born person is living overseas, and has voluntarily obtained the nationality of the country of residence or another third country.”

We would like to show why this conceptualization of North Koreans’ nationality and identity is distorted, false, and wholly contrary to objectivity and fairness.

The South Korean law on nationality does indeed claim that anyone born anywhere on the Korean peninsula is a South Korean citizen. But the North Korean law on nationality also claims that anyone born anywhere on the Korean peninsula is a North Korean citizen, forever.

Article 3 of the constitution of South Korea specifies that, “The territory of the Republic of Korea   shall consist of the Korean peninsula and its adjacent islands.”


Conversely, Article 2, paragraph1 of the North Korean law on nationality states that, “People in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and those in Chosun (the Korean peninsula) that existed before the creation of the DPRK, are Chosunin, and they, and their children, cannot renounce their DPRK nationality.”


In other words, the North Korean nationality law and the South Korean constitution are contradictory and irreconcilable.  In theory, anyone born anywhere on the Korean peninsula automatically possesses two nationalities at the same time, South Korean and North Korean. In practice, however, the international community has already rejected this dual citizenship as an impossibility:  On September 17, 1991 South Korea and North Korea were admitted to the UN as two separate countries.


Obviously, the Canadian government does not ask the advice of the North Korean government about whether people born in South Korea are actually North Korean citizens. Such consultations would cause chaos. 


But when it comes to people born in North Korea, the Canadian government 

seeks out the advice of the South Korean government about whether these North Korean citizens are actually South Korean citizens.


Only with regard to North Korean citizens does the Canadian government stubbornly refuse to consider the contradictions of the Korean citizenship issue.


We would like to remind you that there is a serious problem with fairness here. Objective analysis shows that it is unrealistic and unreasonable to assume that people born in North Korea are automatically South Korean citizens, just as it would be unrealistic and unreasonable to assume that all people born in South Korea are actually North Korean citizens.


By virtue of the UN Refugee Convention, people born in North Korea are not South Korean citizens; they are convention refugees.


The Refugee Convention was adopted at a United Nations conference in Geneva, 1951. Its Protocol was implemented in 1967. The Convention defines a refugee as “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or, who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing  to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”


North Koreans who flee the threats to their survival posed by the dictatorial politics of the North Korean regime clearly qualify for refugee status under the UN convention. In the 1990s, approximately 3 million North Koreans died in a famine, more than 10% of the population.  Some 150,000 North Koreans are currently imprisoned in 6 massive political prison camps operated by the regime. And hundreds of thousands more are imprisoned in the various smaller types of detention centres scattered across the country, including “gyohwaso,” “jipgyulso,” and labour camps. It’s a 21st –century re-enactment of the Holocaust.


The North Korean dictatorship has divided the country’s population into a hierarchy of four classes: the privileged class, the high class, the general class, and the “hostile” residual class. Apart from the privileged class, these classes are subjected to merciless oppression intended to keep the dictatorship in power. This is why the mass exodus of North Koreans from their country has occurred, and why these North Koreans are considered refugees. The contrary assertion that these North Koreans are not refugees because of their supposed South Korean nationality is the opinion of the South Korean government alone.  We would like to remind you that using this South Korean nationality as a reason for stripping North Koreans of their refugee status is a severe violation of humanitarian principles, human rights, and international agreements.


Many North Koreans who escaped into China had hoped to move on to a safe third country such as Canada. But they weren’t given a choice by the South Korean government, which blocks North Koreans from seeking asylum in other countries and insists they go to, and stay in, South Korea, regardless of the North Koreans’ will and opinions. North Korean defectors who wound up in detention camps in Thailand or Mongolia after fleeing China say their attempts to seek refugee status from the embassies of America, Canada, and other foreign countries were rejected. Even worse, North Korean defectors who refused to go to South Korea were held in the detention camps for so long that they too eventually accepted the reality that they no choice but to go to South Korea.


North Korean defectors clearly have refugee status. We hope that you will look at this situation one more time in a fair and objective manner.




South Korea is not a safe country for the North Korean defectors who were given its citizenship. The defectors cannot adapt to the education system or culture of South Korea. Nor are they accepted by the South Koreans who were born and raised there.

North Korean defectors living in South Korea are faced with the life-threatening exposure of their personal information.
All North Korean defectors in South Korea have their family information listed in the same residents’ registry located in Gyeonggi Province, Ansong City, Samjukmyeon, Yongwonli. The defectors’ personal information is easily revealed, and these exposures place them in severe danger. In fact, North Korean defectors who have visited China after settling in South Korea have been arrested by Chinese Public Security officers or kidnapped by North Korean agents and taken back to North Korea again. For this reason, North Korean defectors in South Korea do not indicate their position to anyone.

Because North Korean defectors left records of their identities and backgrounds behind in North Korea, they always live under the threat of exposure to the North Korean dictatorship.


If the defectors’ personal information is revealed to the North Korean government, the defectors’ family members in North Korea are subjected to surveillance or sent to political prison camps. The family members left behind in North Korea are also held as hostages to lure the defectors back to North Korea. Once they return, defectors like Im Jihyun are used in propaganda exercises praising the government.


One example in particular shows the dilemmas and dangers faced by all North Korean defectors in South Korea. Twelve North Korean restaurant workers who defected to South Korea in 2016 were ordered to appear in a South court in response to a request by a lawyers’ group in South Korea. The lawyers’ group wanted the defectors to testify as to whether they came to South Korea willingly, or were kidnapped by South Korean agents, as the North Korean government was claiming. But if the restaurant workers testified that they came willingly, their family members in North Korea would be executed. If they testified that they had been kidnapped by South Korean agents, they would be sent back to North Korea. In the end, the restaurant workers simply refused to testify either way. The personal information of North Korean defectors in South Korea is not supposed to be released. But in practice, it is often leaked, and this is a serious human rights violation.


Moreover, North Korean defectors like Lee Min-bok or Hwang Jang-yop who become conspicuous as a result of their human rights activities in South Korea are repeatedly targeted for assassination by North Korean agents. In short, the threat of exposure to the North Korean regime is a danger endured by all defectors living in South Korea.

The veil still hasn’t been lifted on the human rights violations, humiliations, and sufferings endured by North Korean defectors in South Korea.


North Korean defectors in South Korea are society’s weak men. They are stigmatized, impoverished, and unable to adapt to society. The media have attempted to expose the problems of this class, but the defectors are still being driven out to other countries. And the publication of numerous series of negative stories about North Korean spies and re-defectors to North Korea, some of them manufactured by the press in collaboration with the National Intelligence Service, have made the problem worse. Many South Koreans are led to believe that the North Korean defectors’ reported problems are somehow representative of the North Korean government itself, and they refuse to accept the presence of North Korean defectors on their land. The distinctive North Korean accent of defectors also makes it difficult for them to find a job to survive. And the negative emotions toward North Koreans make it extremely difficult for the defectors’ children to adapt to the South Korean school system and society. The suicide rate among North Korean defectors is 3 times higher than the South Korean average, and psychological difficulties and despair lead many other defectors to seek refuge status in other countries. The defectors’ humanitarian problems and human rights problems are thoroughly erased and ignored by the South Korean government, perhaps because of the government’s political concerns and its need to play a leading role on the divided peninsula. As a result, more defectors are being driven away from South Korea by the extreme situation there. The situation is so bad that some defectors who had fled the hell of North Korea in search of freedom have even returned to North Korea because they were unable to endure the prejudice and discrimination in the South. They take this step knowing that they are risking execution on their return.

We would like to inform you of the severe humanitarian and human rights problems caused by the application of the South Korean “designated country of origin” label to North Korean defectors.


According to the above-mentioned letter sent out to defectors by the Canadian immigration department, North Korean defectors’ applications for permanent residence are being denied because they have no reason to fear persecution in their designated country of origin. This conclusion is justified with references to the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Act, article 21 paragraph 2, and article 177 paragraph d.


South Korea was added to the immigration department’s list of safe countries of origin on May 31, 2013. There was little discussion of this move at the time, because South Korea was seen as a safe liberal democracy. In particular, in comparison to other countries, South Korea had achieved economic success and full democratization in a remarkably short period of time. However, from the defectors’ point of view, there is a contradiction here. The department’s decision to designate South Korea a “safe” country completely failed to consider the fact that the country’s learning and growing environment is very different for different groups of people. The painful conditions for defectors enumerated above show that the “safe” designation for the whole country was a mistake. The “safe country” designation included no consideration of the plight of North Korean refugees living in the southern half of the divided peninsula.


There is currently no line of communication through which defectors can question these contradictions. The policy which is being enforced by the Canadian government is against the UN Refugee Convention and merely serves the political and diplomatic concerns of the Republic of Korea and its allies. 


This illogical and unfair situation which stripped North Koreans of their right to refugee status drove many of us to misrepresent ourselves and conceal the South Korean citizenship that had been given to us. Another reason for our adopting new identities in Canada was to cut off our trail and prevent the North Korean government from continuing to collect information on us.


Our attempts to apply for refugee status in countries like Canada or the U.S. from the detention camps of Thailand and Mongol were ignored. Going to South Korea was the only way out of the camps. We did not know that going to South Korea would prevent us from acquiring refugee status in other countries. But we certainly we remembered the many North Korean defectors who were caught in China and sent back their deaths in North Korea.


We are currently being stripped of our refugee status unfairly, and we can find no good explanation for it. We sincerely hope that you can look at our situation from a human rights perspective.


In conclusion, the Canada Federation of North Korean Defectors will only provide evidence based on facts and truth. We will draw on the testimony of the defectors themselves in an attempt to expose false impressions and one-sided points of view. And we will work calmly toward the ends of true justice.


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