Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
January 10, 2007
Frequently Asked Questions About the Refugee Aspects of the North Korean Human Rights Act
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (NKHRA), signed by the President on October 18, 2004, seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea and promote durable solutions for refugees, transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of information, and progress towards the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
The following are some frequently asked questions about the refugee-specific aspects of the North Korean Human Rights Act:
1. What is the United States doing to protect and assist North Korean refugees?
The United States has long been concerned about the plight of North Korean refugees. We are deeply troubled by reports of the involuntary return of North Koreans from China to North Korea, as these returnees often face serious abuses, including the possibility of torture and execution. The United States believes that North Korean refugees should not be involuntarily expelled or returned ("refouled") to North Korea. We urge all countries in the region to cooperate in the protection North Korean refugees within their territories. We also welcome the opportunity to resettle eligible North Korean refugees to the United States.
The United States vigorously, consistently and at high levels urges China to adhere to its international obligations as a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, including by: 1) not expelling or refouling ( returning) North Koreans protected under those treaties, and 2) undertaking to co-operate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the exercise of its functions. The U.S. Government has also urged China not to repatriate North Koreans to North Korea before allowing the UNHCR access to them. It is imperative that China establishes a means to evaluate protection claims by all asylum seekers, including North Koreans. President Bush raised the North Korean refugee issue when Chinese President Hu Jintao visited Washington in April 2006.
UNHCR has the international mandate for refugee protection and assistance around the world. The United States, as UNHCR's largest donor, continues to support UNHCR's efforts to improve access to, protection of, and durable solutions for North Korean refugees. The United States regularly raises its concerns with UNHCR, as well as other governments and concerned non-governmental and private groups. We urge countries in the region to cooperate with UNHCR and protect North Korean refugees within their territories.
The U.S. also welcomes the opportunity to resettle eligible North Korean refugees to the United States. In FY 2006, the United States resettled nine North Korean refugees. The Department is optimistic that we will resettle more in the near future.
2. What is the purpose of the Act?
The North Korean Human Rights Act seeks to address the serious human rights situation in North Korea, promote durable solutions for refugees, transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance, a free flow of information, and progress towards peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula.
3. What access do North Koreans have to the United States refugee admissions program?
Section 303 of the North Korea Human Rights Act provides that the Secretary of State shall "undertake to facilitate the submission of applications" by citizens of North Korea seeking protection as refugees. The procedures to consider a North Korean national for U.S. resettlement are the same as for nationals from other countries. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and U.S. Embassies and Consulates are strongly encouraged to bring appropriate cases to our attention. Reputable non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can also raise cases with us. The United States seeks host government concurrence before we process North Korean refugees on another country's territory.
4. How will the State Department process North Korean refugees overseas?
We will process North Korean refugees in the same way we process all refugees. A caseworker from one of our Overseas Processing Entities (OPE) will interview the applicant to verify the individual's biographical data and document his or her persecution claim. The OPE will submit the biographical information to the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) in Washington D.C. and request that the applicant's name be screened for security purposes. Once the security check is complete, an officer from the Department of Homeland Security/Citizenship Immigration Services (DHS/CIS) will interview the applicant to verify that he/she meets the refugee definition and is admissible to the U.S. A refugee is someone who has suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her country of origin based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. If DHS/CIS approves the case, the applicant will undergo a medical screening. Next the OPE will submit a request to the RPC for one of ten resettlement agencies in the U.S. to sponsor the case. Finally, depending on the location and logistical considerations, the refugee may receive cultural orientation to familiarize him/her with the basics of life in the U.S. After all of the above mentioned steps are completed, the OPE will put together a travel packet that will allow the refugee to enter the U.S. The length of time it will take to complete all the processing steps may vary from case to case.
There are no fees associated with applying to the United States Refugee Admission Program, and no one should ask for money or any form of payment to assist the applicant in accessing the program. We urge all applicants to inform a U.S. government official if someone requests compensation for such assistance. Refugees who are approved to travel to the United States must pay their own airfare. Refugees who do not have the means to do so are eligible for interest free travel loans administered exclusively by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
5. How will the U.S. Government resettle North Korean refugees in the United States?
North Korean refugees will receive the same support provided all refugees who resettle in the U.S. Once approved for admission, one of ten voluntary agencies participating in the Reception and Placement program (R & P) under a cooperative agreement with the Department of State will sponsor them. The sponsoring agency is responsible for placing refugees with one of its affiliated offices in an appropriate location in the U.S. The agency provides initial services, which include housing, essential furnishing, food, clothing, community orientation and referral to other social and employment services for the refugees' first 30-90 days in the U.S.
The United States government emphasizes early economic self-sufficiency to speed refugee integration in American society. Under the R & P program, each refugee receives at least $400 in cash or material goods during this initial transition period. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) funds longer-term services and public assistance through the welfare programs of the fifty states – the amount and duration of such support varies from state to state. For example, as of January 1, 2004, a single individual received between $81 and $503 per month; a family of four received between $226 and $1,025 per month. It is important to note that the amount provided by U.S. welfare programs is only enough to meet minimum living standards. The money provided through these programs is intended to be a temporary provision to assist refugees until they are able to secure employment. The United States government (USG) welcomes private sector contributions to refugee resettlement, but refugees should not make any assumptions about the amount or type of private assistance that will be provided to them. They should realize that promises of private sector assistance are legally unenforceable.
6. How many North Korean refugees will the United States government resettle and when will that take place?
Every year, after consultation with Congress the President determines the number of refugees to be admitted to the United States through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Although the total number of refugee admissions for a year is divided into regional allocations, there is no pre-determined minimum or maximum number of North Koreans (or refugees of any other nationality) who will be admitted into the United States.
7. What are the responsibilities of the Special Envoy for North Korea?
Section 107 of the North Korean Human Rights Act states that the central objective of the Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea is to coordinate and promote efforts to improve respect for the fundamental human rights of the people of North Korea.
8. Does the status of the Six Party talks have any impact on the U.S. willingness to consider North Korean refugees for resettlement?
There is no relationship between the status of the Six Party talks and our willingness to consider North Korean refugees for resettlement. The United States remains committed to resettling North Korean refugees regardless of the status of the talks.