Cablegate: Dprk Refugee Incidents in Vietnam

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) Summary: Vietnam remains a link in the overland
route taken by North Korean refugees on the way to Cambodia
and Bangkok, as shown by two recent DPRK refugee-related
incidents at USCG Ho Chi Minh City (septels). End summary.


2. (SBU) A group of seven North Korean refugees recently
contacted an AMCIT couple in Ho Chi Minh City, who spoke
with visiting Hanoi Poloff on October 10. The couple, along
with a South Korean tourist they had "met by chance" in
their guest house, said they had already visited the South
Korean consulate to see about getting the reportedly
destitute and lost North Koreans some assistance. They were
told by ROK officials the North Koreans would "have to wait"
because there were "many" North Koreans in Ho Chi Minh City
looking for assistance already.

3. (SBU) Poloff advised the AMCIT couple and their South
Korean companion that the only representative of the UNHCR
in Vietnam was located in Hanoi, and that the GVN had in the
past deported undocumented migrants claiming to be North
Koreans who attempted to seek refugee status in Hanoi, or
who had invaded third-country Embassies trying to claim
asylum there. Poloff also warned the couple that
participating in any illegal activity by or on behalf of the
North Koreans would put them at risk of arrest by the
Vietnamese police. The three travelers left the Consulate
General with the declared intention of trying to find a
Korean business, church, or charity that could provide

4. (SBU) In another incident, at 0130 on October 14, a man
claiming to be a North Korean national attempted to scale
the fence at ConGen HCMC. The attempt was unsuccessful and
the subject was led away by police. It is not known if
there was any relationship between the attempt and the visit
to ConGen HCMC by the AMCIT couple above. (Details to be
provided SEPTEL from HCMC.)

--------------------------------------------- -
--------------------------------------------- -

5. (SBU) South Korean and Japanese Embassy officials,
representatives from the International Organization for
Migration, and major western news outlets such as the
Washington Post confirm that Vietnam is on the overland
route often taken by North Korean refugees fleeing south.
According to the Washington Post, the North Koreans pass
illegally through Vietnam en route to Cambodia or Thailand.
From there, according to ROK Pol/C Baek, they can often
connect with an international refugee organization or a
Korean charity and get to South Korea or Japan. Baek and
IOM stated that the Vietnamese government generally does not
take much note of North Korean refugees unless they cause a
disturbance or generate "political difficulty" by attempting
to apply for refugee status or asylum while in Vietnam. In
that case, they said, the North Koreans would be returned to
the country from which they entered Vietnam, meaning China.

6. (SBU) Vietnamese border officials in Mong Cai, a crossing
point into China, confirmed the GVN's policy to Poloff
during a visit there October 2. When asked what they would
do if they encountered North Korean refugees at the border,
the police said they would return them to China "in
accordance with Vietnamese laws." The office of UNHCR in
Hanoi noted that North Koreans who come to UNHCR in Hanoi to
seek refugee status would receive the same treatment from
UNHCR as any other nationality, but would have to contend
with the fact that the GVN will allow them to stay in
Vietnam only if they have proper and current immigration

7. (SBU) The reality is less harsh than the law, noted Baek.
If the refugees do not stop or draw attention to themselves,
he said, they can pass through Vietnam and into Cambodia
without being molested. "Korean church groups" and
"charities" helped the refugees along the way to UNHCR
offices in Phnom Penh and Bangkok, he said.


8. (SBU) Baek noted that there is one other dimension to the
issue of North Koreans in Vietnam. The reception given to
successful refugees, particularly in South Korea and Japan,
has motivated ethnic Koreans of Chinese nationality to
pretend to be North Koreans in order to procure the benefits
they perceive the actual DPRK refugees as receiving, he
said. The actual trip from North Korea to Vietnam is so
difficult and expensive, he added, that it was virtually
impossible to accomplish without assistance and almost never
attempted alone. As a result, genuine North Korean refugees
were well aware of the dangers of coming to the "official
attention" of the GVN and therefore did not attempt to
contact UNHCR or third-country Embassies. He said that the
ROK Embassy in Hanoi had concluded that individuals and
groups that attempted to request asylum while in Vietnam
were not, in fact, North Korean, but rather ethnically
Korean citizens of the PRC from northeastern border regions
who were only claiming to be from North Korea. On hearing
about the incident at CG HCMC in the early morning of
October 14, he said he felt strongly that this was a Chinese
national pretending to be North Korean.

9. (SBU) Mission intends to handle any potential DPRK asylum
seekers the way it would handle asylum-seekers from any
other country, by referring them to the UNHCR office in
Hanoi. We are aware, however, that individuals seeking
asylum in Vietnam are rarely using legal documentation, and
therefore are at high risk of deportation back to their
point of entry - in the case of DPRK asylum seekers, China.

© Scoop Media

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