Nine North Korean refugees have been forced to return home after escaping to Laos, drawing protests from human rights groups and concern from the US.
The defectors, the oldest aged 23 and the youngest just 15, were arrested in Laos three weeks ago. They were sent to China on Monday and flown to Pyongyang the following day, reportedly accompanied by at least one North Korean official.
Human Rights Watch accused the Lao and Chinese governments of showing a “disregard for human rights” by allowing the escapees to be repatriated.
“As a result of their return they are at dire risk – North Korea criminalizes unauthorized departures and is known to torture those caught trying to escape and those sent back,” said the US-based campaign group’s deputy Asia director, Phil Robertson.
South Korea also came in for criticism for failing to intervene. Its embassy in Laos was aware of the defectors’ presence but “simply watched them be repatriated,” according to an editorial in South Korean newspaper JoongAng, translated by Agence France Presse.