September 30, 2008 / 2:12 AM / 9 years ago

South Korea eyes Thai centre for North's refugees

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea is considering building refugee centers in Thailand, Mongolia and Russia to house North Koreans fleeing their homeland in search of asylum, according to documents seen by Reuters Tuesday.

Hundreds of North Koreans flee the hermit state every year, usually crossing into China and then on to a third country on their way to eventual asylum in South Korea, human rights groups say.

Many end up in Thailand, packing detention facilities. South Korea grants asylum to the North Koreans at a slower rate than they have been arriving, creating a bottleneck that has strained ties between Seoul and Bangkok.

According to a presidential order in March, released by ruling party lawmaker Hong Jung-wook, the government should “promptly consider establishing refugee camps, at least in Thailand.”

And according, to a separate order from President Lee Myung-bak, South Korea should “consult with other countries such as Mongolia or Russia on establishing refugee centers in those countries.”

The presidential Blue House declined comment on the documents.

China considers the North Koreans economic refuges and typically repatriates those it catches. Once back in the North, those who tried to escape face detention in political prison camps, rights groups say.

More than 10,000 North Korean refugees have made their way to South Korea, where they are almost always granted citizenship.

The government offers training to help the North Koreans adjust to life in the capitalist South. But the limited facilities means it can only process a small number of refugees at a time.

Reporting by Kim Junghyun and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alex Richardson

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