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The adult child of a Japanese woman who accompanied her Korean husband to North Korea decades ago under a repatriation program secretly entered Japan last summer with the help of the Japanese government, sources said Wednesday.

The government acted in the name of protecting the person, who is in their 50s, was born in Japan and can claim Japanese nationality by birthright, the sources said.

It is the first time that a Japanese who has fled North Korea has been confirmed to have re-entered Japan, the sources said.

The person, whose gender was not revealed, fled to China to escape poverty and hunger in North Korea. A nongovernmental organization assisting such refugees contacted Japanese officials, the sources said.

Previously, a former Korean resident of Japan who went to the Korean Peninsula under the government-supported repatriation program that began in 1959 was granted asylum and allowed to return to Japan on the grounds that he was “quasi-Japanese.” While it is believed that more than 20 such Korean nationals have re-entered Japan, it is rare for the government to be involved in the return process, the sources said.

Refugee help sought

Japanese leaders said Wednesday they hope humanitarian measures will be taken to deal with the growing number of North Korean refugees in China, blaming the problem on Pyongyang.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said, “I hope for humanitarian measures” to deal with the refugees, who reportedly include Japanese nationals, without elaborating.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe told a news conference the North Korean government only has itself to blame for the many people trying to leave their homeland.

“It is a grave decision for people to abandon their country,” he said.

Abe declined to comment on how the safety of Japanese nationals among the refugees would be secured. The Japanese are believed to be mostly women who went to the secretive state after marrying North Koreans decades ago.

Abe said many people are leaving the North to escape its dire economic situation, especially amid the freezing winter.

North Korea is also likely facing an energy shortage, especially after the United States suspended free oil shipments in December. when Pyongyang admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons program, he added.

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