Refugee Week: North Korean Refugees in the UK

Prior to Refugee Week, Lord Alton, Co-Chair of the APPG on North Korea, asked the UK Government “what assessment they have made of the statement by the government of South Korea in a letter to the Secretary of State in 2010…that North Korean refugees must “desire to live in the Republic of Korea” before they can be considered South Korean nationals or be offered protection and settlement support.”

In response, Lord Bates noted that North Koreans who claim asylum in the UK must be able “to demonstrate that they have cooperated by seeking to establish whether they can avail themselves of protection from another State of which they may be a citizen.” UK Home Office guidance states that “North Korean citizens are also citizens of South Korea” and that North Korean applications for asylum in the UK are likely to be refused on that basis.

However, South Korean legislation confirms that North Koreans are not automatically entitled to ROK citizenship and, in practice, this is supported by the ROK government’s inability to extend consular, financial or legal protection to North Koreans fleeing through China.

The UK is currently home to over 600 North Korean refugees, the largest North Korean refugee community outside of South Korea and China. Many will have undertaken a perilous journey through China to Mongolia or South-East Asian states where they will have filed claims for asylum. In theory, DPRK law provides for the freedom of movement and the freedom for North Korean citizens to leave their country, but overwhelming evidence confirms that North Koreans are prevented from leaving and face persecution, incarceration and even execution upon their return.