A Tri-Cities group is calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take action against the alleged repatriation of North Koreans from China.
Members of the Korean Society of B.C. Fraternity and Culture, a Coquitlam-based group, marched throughout downtown Vancouver to the Chinese visa application centre on West Broadway Monday to raise awareness about the "inhumane treatment" that North Korean refugees allegedly face when they are caught and sent back to their country.
"The world has been watching with deep concern the plight of the individuals who were arrested after escaping from North Korea last month," said society president and event organizer Eunice Oh. "Currently being held by authorities in China, these defectors face the possibility of forced labour, (imprisonment), torture and execution if they are returned to their homeland."
Oh is urging the Canadian government to acknowledge the escapees status as refugees and provide international assistance and protection.
"As one of the first nations in the world where human rights and freedom are not only standardized, but fiercely protected, it is both expected and required that the Government of Canada fully participate in this initiative to prevent repatriation of the escapees," she said.
A constant stream of North Koreans have fled the country to avoid chronic food shortages and harsh political oppression in the past decade. Many are travelling to neighbouring countries such as China and Thailand before eventually resettling in South Korea.
Last month, roughly 21 refugees were captured in Changchun, China, sparking mass protests around the world from protesters calling for the release of the captives.
According to Oh, some 300 people showed up to support Monday's rally.
"As Canadians, we take pride in living in a nation that leads peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts around the globe ... We want Coquitlam residents to get to know about this humane issue and raise the voice for the North Korean refugees to the Canadian government," she said.
The society also sent letters to the United Nations, Harper and the Consulate of the People's Republic of China voicing their concerns.
"(The) UN nations, China and North Korea have the responsibility to adhere to and honour basic human rights," Oh said.
"Indeed, this issue at hand is more than just the historical conflict between South and North Korea and China, but that which merits international attention and resolution," she added.
The group plans to continue protesting next Monday and have set up a meeting with Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on March 24.