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A Japanese school in Beijing where refugees from North Korea have frequently sought sanctuary found another eight people in its compound Monday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said in Tokyo.

A man, five women and two girls entered the school premises at around 4 a.m., local time, requesting asylum, Hosoda told his regularly scheduled news briefing. But he said he had yet to confirm if they were seeking safe passage to South Korea.

But the eight reportedly carried an English-language note reading: “SOS. We are North Koreans. We want to go to South Korea. Please call the Japanese Embassy.”

They were transported to the embassy a few hours later, after the school principal notified officials at the mission, Hosoda said.

“We have yet to decide what to do, but we will take appropriate measures based on a humanitarian point of view,” Hosoda said, adding Japan will consult with Chinese authorities on the matter.

A growing number of North Koreans have been seeking refuge at the government-affiliated school in recent years. In 2003, 14 people seeking asylum entered the compound. Last year saw 36 force their way in.

In most cases, they were transferred to South Korea after questioning by officials.

In December, seven North Koreans entered the school before dawn; 29 others did so in September.

The seven in the December incident are still at the embassy awaiting an answer to their asylum request.

Information from Kyodo added

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