Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The Untold UN Scandal

In the midst of the scandals already swirling around the UN, Claudia Rosett contends worse things remain largely undiscussed:
"The true horror is the way in which the well-mannered nuances of U.N. bureaucracy, structure and management have combined to dismiss demurely the desperate needs of hundreds of thousands of human beings fleeing famine and repression in the world's worst totalitarian state."
In particular she is referring to the fate of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled North Korea to China. If captured, China will return them to near certain death, despite its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention:
"Where is the U.N. in all this? Under the U.N. Refugee Convention--which Beijing has signed and the UNHCR [UN High Commision on Refugees], with its $1.1 billion budget, is supposed to administer--these North Koreans refugees had rights. The convention promised them not a return to their deaths, but at least safe transit through China to a place of asylum.

The UNHCR keeps an office in Beijing, with a budget this year totaling $4.4 million, to which asylum seekers have no access. Four years ago, a family of North Korean refugees actually stormed the premises and gained asylum after threatening to eat rat poison from their pockets if forced back out onto the street. Since then, the UNHCR has allowed China's security agents to better defend the compound against further visits by the people the UNHCR is supposedly in China to protect.

For years now, the U.N. policy in dealing with North Korean refugees in China has been one of what its spokesmen call 'quiet diplomacy.' The hushed implication is that behind the scenes, the UNHCR is in deep and earnest discussion with the Chinese authorities. No doubt. And there has been some help for a small number, mainly by way of easing them quietly out of the country once they have risked their lives by storming foreign compounds other than the UNHCR's. But the broad picture, for the hundreds of thousands, is a quiet but dire absence of any help whatsoever."
Read it all.

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