Viewing cable 05BANGKOK6097

05BANGKOK60972005-09-23 10:01:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Bangkok
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 006097 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/23/2015 
REF: A. A. SECSTATE 172010 
     ¶B. B. BANGKOK 000484 
1.5 (B,D) 
¶1. (C) Summary. Both Thai and local UNHCR officials judge that 
the current, informal pipeline that funnels North Korean asylum 
seekers through UNHCR and on to the ROK embassy for swift and 
quiet resettlement continues to work well.  According to Thai 
officials, any future USG efforts to accept North Koreans in 
Thailand would be "very, very difficult" for the RTG to 
consider, given their emphasis on speed and discretion in 
removing North Koreans from Thailand, and the RTG's current 
effort to serve as a bridge between Pyongyang and the United 
States.  As one Thai official stated, the RTG does not want to 
become a "magnet" for North Koreans and his government wants 
policy to "stay as it is." End Summary. 
¶2. (C) Embassy officers met with several UNHCR and RTG officials 
to informally discuss the status of North Korean asylum seekers 
in Thailand.  Both senior and mid-level Thai officials in the 
National Security Council and Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
emphasized that they do not want North Koreans to come to 
Thailand, but that the current ROK pipeline is allowed to 
continue because it allows for the swift, discreet relocation of 
a modest number of North Koreans.  The following are responses 
to questions in ref A. 
-- Thailand is not a signatory to the 1951 refugee convention 
and North Korean asylum seekers in Thailand are not granted any 
special international refugee status.  The RTG, however, allows 
UNHCR and the ROK Embassy to operate an informal pipeline that 
moves North Koreans onward to South Korea.  North Koreans who 
are arrested in Thailand and placed in immigration detention--as 
well as those that remain free and contact local South Korean 
religious and NGO groups--are quickly put in contact with UNHCR, 
which verifies their nationality, obtains basic biodata, and 
determines if they are interested in resettlement in the ROK. 
Once these conditions have been met, UNHCR then refers these 
cases to the ROK Embassy, which provides travel documents and 
other support for onward relocation to South Korea.  UNHCR sees 
no reason to do formal status determinations on these cases 
because the South Korean Embassy has said it will take all North 
Koreans, and ROK nationality is more protective than any status 
UNHCR can offer.  North Koreans in Thailand do not enjoy any 
special rights under Thai law, and the current UNHCR/ROK 
pipeline is not specifically authorized by law or statute, but 
by informal agreement with the RTG.  There have been no cases of 
refoulement, and no other asylum-seeking group is afforded such 
reliable assistance. 
-- North Koreans in Thailand do not experience any particular 
vulnerability or protection issue. 
-- RTG officials have made clear their extreme reluctance to 
entertain the idea of USG processing of North Koreans in 
Thailand.  A senior NSC official told Polcouns and visiting 
EAP/MLS Director that the RTG does not want North Koreans to 
come to, or transit, Thailand.  Given the reality of some North 
Koreans entering the country, the RTG permits the pipeline to 
function because it is a quick solution to the problem. 
Separately, a mid-level MFA official told acting Refcoord that 
Thailand does not want to become a "magnet" for North Koreans, 
and that any USG role would likely lead to such.  He explained 
that Thailand is trying to serve as a link between the "free 
world" and the DPRK, and that any publicity about or increase in 
the number of North Korean illegals entering Thailand could put 
this policy in jeopardy (Note: and may threaten the current 
pipeline as well. End Note).  It would be "very, very difficult" 
for the RTG to accept such a USG role.  Thai officials want 
policy to "stay as it is." 
-- Given concerns outlined in answer above, NSC officials 
explained that they would not be "comfortable" with any USG 
increases in assistance for North Koreans in Thailand.  North 
Korean asylum cases handled by the pipeline result in relocation 
to ROK within "days," according to UNHCR and thus little 
assistance is required.  Per ref B, South Korean Embassy 
officials have told us that they, in concert with religious 
groups, provide adequate food, clothing, and housing for North 
Koreans asylum seekers in Thailand. 
-- The RTG is unlikely to welcome USG support for providing 
protection and assistance to North Korean asylum seekers in 
¶3. (C) Comment.  Our Thai and UNHCR interlocutors have responded 
to our informal inquiries with the message "if it isn't broken, 
why fix it?"  Behind the Thai response, however, lies an equally 
important difference of perspective.  As successful as the 
current pipeline may be at affording North Koreans safehaven 
from the horrors of their own country, it plays a different role 
for the RTG.  The Thai have long struggled to deal with refugees 
crossing over from neighboring Burma, Cambodia and Laos.  The 
prospect of a new wave of North Koreans settling in Thailand and 
awaiting a long and uncertain processing period fills them with 
understandable apprehension, especially given the geopolitical 
sensitivities involved.  For them, the current pipeline is less 
about helping North Koreans than helping the Thai avoid a new, 
more difficult refugee problem.