Thailand says it will deport 92 North Koreans who were detained in a Bangkok suburb last week for entering the country illegally. But the foreign ministry says they will probably not be repatriated to North Korea.
The 76 adults in the North Korean group were convicted by a Thai court for illegal entry into the kingdom and sentenced to prison. But their sentences were immediately suspended, and they were put on probation while awaiting deportation.
Thai foreign ministry spokesman Kitti Wasinondh told VOA it is unlikely the adults and 16 children will be heading back to the home they fled. He said that in the case of illegal North Korean refugees, his country takes humanitarian considerations into account.
"I don't think they will be deported to North Korea," he said. "Our law specifies that they have to be deported, so it's up to a third country to offer [asylum]."
Kitti confirmed that South Korea would most likely offer asylum to the group, as it has to most of the 400 or so North Koreans who have managed to find their way into Thailand this year alone.
Two months ago, 175 North Koreans were picked up for illegal entry into Thailand. A month later, the adults among them went through a similar trial and were ordered deported. Although their destination was not made public, a foreign ministry official says it was probably South Korea, which nearly always grants citizenship to North Korean asylum seekers.
Most North Koreans escape their country by way of China, fleeing political oppression and hunger. Some make their way south, across the Chinese border into Laos and Burma, and then move on to Thailand.
Kitti says Thailand is not happy with the influx of North Koreans, but he concedes that most of the defectors are victims rather than wrongdoers.