China deny COVID vaccines to North Korean defectors, putting lives at risk


China has been discriminating against defectors from its neighbour and close ally North Korea by denying them COVID vaccines, putting their life to risk. Even as China lifted restrictions related to COVID 19, it has refused to give treatment to escapees from North Korea even when they confronted serious corona virus symptoms for lack of identity proof.

The daily NK, Seoul based online daily, shared shocking tales of North Korean defectors being denied COVID vaccines because they do not have ID proofs. This is despite the fact that some of them have complained of serious corona virus symptoms. The daily quoted a source who said that North Korean defectors in China can’t receive treatment even if they are infected [with the virus]. In absence of identity card, they are not entitled to vaccinate. According to NK news, North Korean defectors in China have not received even a single vaccination since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, thereby leaving them unprotected. In a telephone call with Daily NK, one defector living in an undisclosed area of China said defectors cannot receive tests even if they are infected with the COVID virus, so they take cold medicine instead. 

“We can’t go anywhere without a vaccination certificate, but since we have no IDs, we can’t even think about getting vaccinations,” one of them reportedly told the daily. In fact, several defectors are now languishing in prison after they were arrested by Chinese police while attempting to go to South Korea, told source to the daily. The source went on to report that many defectors in China are expressing their despair, talking of “bitter sorrow” about not being officially recognized by the Chinese government and how it would be “better to die than live like this.” “Some defectors have even died after suffering from COVID-19 symptoms,” he said, adding, “Other defectors who have watched people die in vain are frustrated about the situation they are all in.”

The chilling stories completely exposed China’s hypocracy with regard to vaccination programme.  The Chinese government adopted coercive methods and forced people to vaccinate but denied vaccination to north Korean defectors.

According to global health experts, it is medically unethical to deny Covid 19 vaccination as that is the only way to protect people from the deadly corona virus. As per rights framework, each member nation ought to provide vaccination to everyone irrespective of their nationality.

Diplomatically, China, a close ally of Pyongyang, doesn’t consider North Korean defectors as refugees, instead seeing them as illegal economic migrants. Under a border agreement with North Korea, it forcibly deports them. Once back in North Korea, defectors face possible torture, sexual violence, hard labour, imprisonment in political or re-education camps, or even execution by the North Korean state.

Most North Koreans have been escaping from the northern border and move into China and then to South Korea in search of a better life away from a regime that tightly controls every aspect of their lives. Defectors do not get protection from China. Instead, these defectors are forced to hide themselves from Chinese police who would forcibly repatriate them back to North Korea.

According to a Christian post website, a woman defector said that North Korean women in China are “treated worse than dogs.” The most shocking is that most North Korean defectors are women who are tricked or forced into human trafficking. Many are sold to Chinese men to marry, forced into prostitution, or forced into online sexual exploitation in which people pay to access their live streams. “Lee,” a female North Korean defector who is remaining anonymous, was promised a job in a restaurant by the broker who helped her escape North Korea into China. On arrival, she realized that she was in deep trouble. There was no restaurant. She was sold for approximately 4,500 US dollars to someone who ran a cybersex chatroom. She reportedly told CNN, “When I found out, I felt so humiliated … I started crying and asked to leave, but the boss said he had paid a lot of money for me, and I now had a debt towards him.” Sadly, women who are trafficked upon arrival in China often face difficulty in reaching South Korea or elsewhere. Some North Korean escapee women married off to Chinese men and end up producing children. Many women working in brothels or online chat rooms are forced to use drugs so they cannot escape.

Human Rights Watch had earlier called on Beijing to protect the defectors and “end its complicity with North Korean rights violations by ending the practice of forcing back fleeing North Koreans.” An activist said that China intensify crackdown on North Korean defectors when diplomatic relations between China and North Korea are cordial.

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