October 11, 2005

Eight N.Koreans seek asylum at school in China

SEOUL (Reuters) - Eight people believed to be North Koreans
rushed into a South Korean school in the Chinese city of
Qingdao on Tuesday seeking asylum in the South, a South Korean
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.

The eight arrived in the northeastern coastal Chinese city
on September 30 and had been waiting for the chance to defect,
Yonhap news agency reported a South Korean group that works
with North Korean defectors as saying.

South Korean officials asked China's ambassador to Seoul to
give the defectors safe passage to South Korea, the ministry
spokeswoman said by telephone.

"We have asked China not to send them back to North Korea,"
she said.

On Monday, the ministry said that in a separate incident
China had sent home seven North Koreans who tried to defect in
August at a South Korean school in the Chinese city of Yentai,
despite protests from Seoul.

North Korean defectors living in the South have said
defectors sent back to the North, as well as their families,
often face long and harsh prison sentences.

There are at least 200,000 North Koreans hiding in China
waiting for the chance to leave for another country, notably
South Korea, according to human rights groups in South Korea.

China considers North Koreans in the country to be illegal
aliens who should be deported.

It has hitherto generally allowed North Koreans who sought
asylum at international schools or diplomatic missions in the
country to travel to the South, where North Koreans receive
automatic citizenship.