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A group of escapees from North Korea announced Wednesday they have formed an association to help support them in Japan.

The Society of Escapees from North Korea in Japan consists mostly of North Korean-born children of former Korean residents of Japan who secretly escaped from the North in recent years.

Speaking at a news conference in Tokyo, Kenki Aoyama, a 63-year old Osaka-born ethnic Korean, said that 18 of nearly 50 ethnic Koreans, their Japanese wives and their children who recently escaped from the poverty stricken state have joined the association.

“We escapees from North Korea are certainly political asylum seekers and refugees,” Aoyama said in the statement declaring the establishment of the group.

He was the only member of the group who attended the news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Aoyama is using a pseudonym to avoid possible persecution by North Korean authorities against his relatives remaining in the country.

He wore sunglasses and a medical mask during the news conference.

“The Japanese government, however, has provided us no legal protection and irresponsibly left us as we are,” he said, adding that such people currently live in fear, having no legal and financial support.

According to Aoyama, most of the 18 are North Korean-born children whose parents were among the roughly 93,000 Korean residents in Japan or their Japanese spouses who emigrated to North Korea on a repatriation program between 1959 and 1984.

Such defections began in the late 1990s, with refugees entering Japan mainly through China under secret arrangements with the Japanese government.

Aoyama said more than half of the original 93,000 people who went to North Korea have since died, but that about 100,000 people, including their children, wish to seek asylum in Japan.

The repatriation program, based on an accord between the Red Cross societies of the two countries, had been promoted by Pyongyang and the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun).

In the statement, however, Aoyama claimed that the campaign, which often painted North Korea as a paradise, proved to be false and that members barely survived a hellish life in a dictatorial state.

He added that the Japanese government, Japanese political parties that have pursued pro-Pyongyang policies, and the mass media here are partly responsible for their plight, and called for the government to provide escapees with a clear legal status as refugees and livelihood assistance.

Aoyama added that his group aims to help overthrow the Kim Jong Il regime in North Korea and democratize the country.

For such goals, he called for the international community to pressure China, a primary channel for escapees from the North, to recognize and protect them from North Korea as refugees to promote an implosion of the country.

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