The nine North Koreans, all aged 15 to 23, arrived in Laos around 10 May and were on their way to South Korea when they were caught by the Lao authorities. According to reports, the South Korean embassy in Vientiane requested that the refugees be transferred into their custody. However, on 27 May the embassy received the news that the group had been deported to China. On 29 May, a senior South Korean foreign ministry official said they judged that the refugees were repatriated to North Korea on 28 May.
Although China has ratified the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which prohibits the forcible return of people to states where they face a substantial risk of being tortured, the government continues to repatriate refugees to North Korea, despite numerous reports of imprisonment, torture and execution of returned defectors. Laos has also ratified CAT. China is also a state party to the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which includes a similar principle of non-refoulement (Article 33). Refugees outside North Korea qualify as refugees sur place because of a well-founded fear of torture and possible execution in North Korea, where they are considered to be illegal emigrants. Accordingly, CSW has called for all North Koreans in China to be recognised as refugees and given access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, "CSW condemns the decision of the Lao authorities to deport nine North Korean refugees to China against the wishes and welfare of the refugees, and the direct request of the South Korean embassy. We urge the Lao authorities to return to their policy of transferring all North Korean refugees into the custody of South Korean officials. Furthermore, we are deeply concerned about the refugees’ subsequent deportation to North Korea. We strongly urge the North Korean government to respect the human rights of the nine North Koreans, acknowledging the special protection given to persons under 18 years by the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and to refrain from treating the nine individuals as criminals, as has been their habit in the past, granting them full freedom."