SEVEN IN BEIJING SEEK HELP

Japanese school gets more asylum-seekers

by Kanako Takahara

Seven asylum-seekers believed to be North Korean entered a Japanese school in Beijing on Friday morning, according to Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda.

The two men, four women and a small girl entered the school premises around 3:45 a.m. local time, carrying this note in English: “We are North Koreans. We want to go to South Korea. Help.”

After the Chinese government was notified, the seven were transported by bus to the Japanese Embassy in Beijing around 6:25 a.m., Hosoda said.

Embassy officials will question the asylum-seekers over their identities and how they entered the school compound, though it is unlikely they will be sent back to North Korea, Hosoda said.

“In most cases, (North Korean asylum-seekers) are sent to a (third) country after coordination with Chinese authorities,” Hosoda said.

The school’s security alarm went off after the seven entered the premises, he said. The asylum-seekers were sitting on the playground when school security staff responded to the alarm, he said.

The school, which has 495 students, opened for classes as usual Friday morning, according to the Japanese Embassy.

Video footage shot by South Korea’s Munhwa Broadcasting Corp. shows the asylum-seekers helping each other over the fence. Clad in heavy parkas, they used a ladder to scale a concrete wall topped with a metal fence that surrounds the school.

Atop the high fence were lines of barbed wire, which they clutched with their bare hands. None wore gloves. One appeared to be wearing thick socks or bedroom slippers but no shoes. The child clung to the back of one of the adults.

This is the third time North Korean asylum-seekers have sought refuge at the Japanese school in Beijing. A group of 29 North Koreans sought refuge in September, while four others entered the compound in February 2003.

Twenty of the 29 asylum-seekers in the September incident have already been sent to South Korea in accordance with their request, while the nine others remain at the Japanese Embassy awaiting the results of diplomatic talks with Chinese authorities.

As an ally of North Korea, China has since August stepped up its crackdown on North Koreans attempting to seek asylum in foreign missions or schools in Beijing. The number of defectors has shot up recently.

Chinese Foreign Ministry officials have asked foreign governments to boost security to stop asylum bids.

On Wednesday, a group of people who appear to have fled North Korea entered a South Korean school in Beijing. The Chinese owner of the building cordoned it off the next day at the behest of Chinese authorities. The school remains closed.

Information from Kyodo, AP added