N.Korea defectors seek fake asylum in Europe: ministry

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Growing numbers of North Korean defectors dissatisfied with life in South Korea are seeking refugee status in Europe even though they hold the South's citizenship, a Seoul foreign ministry official said Wednesday.

The official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the ministry has been cooperating with foreign countries about the problem but gave no details.

A ruling party legislator Hong Jung-Wook, citing what he said was an internal foreign ministry document, said Britain and Norway have refused to grant refugee status to some 600 defectors after discovering they had already obtained South Korean citizenship.

Hong said in a report that about 70 percent of some 1,000 North Koreans who sought asylum in Britain since 2004 are suspected of having the South's citizenship.

Britain had granted refugee status to 375 North Korean defectors as of late 2008 but has not issued a single approval since 2009, Hong said.

Norway also discovered 80 of some 130 North Koreans who applied for asylum in 2008 are "fake refugees" who already have the South's citizenship, he said in his report.

Oslo had filed strong complaints urging Seoul to solve the issue, he said.

Britain is also demanding that Seoul sign a treaty to hand over all fingerprint records of North Korean defectors to help screen out such fake asylum-seekers, Hong said.

A foreign ministry statement denied Britain asked for such a treaty.

"Since this matter involves South Korean citizens, we have been cooperating within necessary scale when deemed proper when there was a request from related countries," its statement said.

"We are discussing proper responses with the countries."

More than 19,000 people have fled the communist North for the South since the end of the 1950-53 war, the vast majority in recent years after severe famine and food shortages.

Some complain they face discrimination and difficulty in finding decent jobs in the capitalist country.

© 2010 AFP

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