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Sunday, June 3, 2007 6:27 am

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4 North Korean defectors reach Japan after 6 days on the open sea

Japan’s coast guard found early Saturday a boat off the coast in Aomori prefecture with four people claiming to have escaped from North Korea on board, Yomiuri Shimbun, Asahi Shimbun, etc, report.

According to Yomiuri, the police stated that a fisherman spotted the boat near Fukaura Port in northernmost Aomori, and alarmed the police, who together with the Japan Coast Guard escorted the boat to shore. Mainichi reports that the four on board, reportedly family members, hardly speak any Japanese but explained through the aid of an interpreter that they left from the Chongjin area May 27 and had been on the open sea since then.

“We decided to leave North Korea because we didn’t have any rights there. We first tried to go to South Korea, but the border control was too tight that way so we headed for Japan. We all hope to go to South Korea”, one of the men told the police, several newspapers report. The North Koreans had illegal poison in their possession, which they explained, “we intended to take suicide, if we were caught by the North Korean “.

The four escapees are causing a wave of astonishment in Japan, not the least in the North Korean community. A forty year old former North Korean national, now residing in Tokyo, told a Mainichi reporter: “They must have went out on that boat, thinking it was ‘do or die’… but I’ve never heard of anything like this before”. Two second generation Zainichi North Koreans residing in Osaka Prefecture commented, “When we were in North Korea, there were talks about how three families from our neighbourhood had escaped to South Korea on a boat, but we have never heard of anybody succeeding in getting to Japan, directly”.

The Society to Help Returnees to North Korea, a support group for North Korean refugees, issued a statement Saturday afternoon: “There is no doubt that these four people have come here escaping from political repression. We hope that the Japanese government will take them in as refugees and help them to settle in the country they desire”.

Prime minister Abe Shinzo commented on the situation, “I trust the responsible immigration office will handle this appropriately”.

Further reading
Wikipedia article on North Korean defectors
Wikipedia article on Chongjin
Wikipedia article on Aomori Prefecture
Asahi Shimbun article (Japanese)
Mainichi Shimbun collection of articles (Japanese)
Yomiuri Shimbun article (Japanese)
The Society to Help Returnees to North Korea official site (Japanese)

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