Sunday, May 7, 2006
Six refugees from North Korea, including four women who say they were victims of sexual slavery or forced marriages, have fled to the United States, a senator said yesterday.
The group is the first from North Korea to be given official refugee status since passage of a 2004 law that makes it easier for North Koreans to apply for such status.
Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) said the six refugees arrived at an undisclosed U.S. location Friday night from a Southeast Asian nation. He would not identify which nation they came from because of worries about security for their families and to avoid diplomatic complications with the country that sent them.
"This is a great act of compassion by the United States and the other countries involved," said Brownback, a co-sponsor of the law. He said that the refugees' arrival in the United States showed "the act is working" by making the refugees' human rights a part of U.S. policy toward North Korea.
The issue of North Korean human rights has gained attention in Washington as diplomatic efforts to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons production program have stalled.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have fled across their border into China.
The U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights, Jay Lefkowitz, said at a congressional hearing April 27: "We need to do more -- and we can and will do more -- for the North Korean refugees."
"We will press to make it clear to our friends and allies in the region that we are prepared to accept North Korean refugees for resettlement here," Lefkowitz said.
North Korea long has been accused of torture, public executions and other atrocities against its people. As many as 200,000 people are believed to be held in prison camps for political reasons, the State Department said in a report last year.