JEAIL > Volume 3(2); 2010 > Student Contribution
Research Paper
Published online: November 30, 2010

North Korea Escapees in China: Granting Prima Facie Refugee Status Based on a Group Determination

Melissa M. Kim
University of Toronto, Canada
50 Commons Drive, Toronto, Ontario, M1T 1E4 Canada
Corresponding Author:

ⓒ Copyright YIJUN Institute of International Law
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


For the past twenty years, the UNHCR has faced a complex situation of North Koreans moving illegally across the North Korean border into Chinese territory. Although this mass influx is generally understood to be a 'refugee' crisis, North Korean escapees have not officially been granted refugee status by China, nor are they recognized as such by the UNHCR. In response, academics have argued that North Korean escapees should be granted international refugee status under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. More specifically, academics have claimed that North Korean escapees should be granted refugee status because they meet the criteria outlined in Article 1A(2) of the Convention under the traditional, individualized interpretation of the 'refugee' definition. Whilst the author is in full agreement with the conclusion that North Korean escapees should be considered refugees under the Convention, this article reviews the problems with applying the individualized interpretation of the Convention definition to North Korean escapees, and instead offers an alternative method of establishing refugee status: North Korean escapees should be granted prima facie refugee status based on a group application of the Convention definition. This article is premised on the view that the manner in which countries address refugee flow is not only a matter of international concern and policy, but of international law. Consequently, the focus of this article will be the 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol, given their primacy as the key legal instruments outlining the definition of a refugee and countries' obligations towards persons who meet that definition.

Keywords : North Korean Refugees, North Korean Defectors, North Korean Escapees, North Koreans in China, Refugee Status, Prima Facie Refugee, Group Determination of Refugee Status, UNHCR, Article 1A(2)

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