Tuesday, May 29, 2007

N Korean Refugees See North Thailand as Entry Point

Repro (Article)By Sai SilpMay 28, 2007
Researchers say there may be as many as 200,000 North Korean refugees living illegally in China, Laos and Burma, and many of them are waiting for an opportunity to enter Thailand to seek political asylum.
Tomoharu Ebihara, a Japanese lecturer at Payap University in Chiang Mai who is a volunteer with a Tokyo-based aid group, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees, says there is no way to know for certain how many refugees have fled North Korea, but Thailand is a destination of choice, because of its humane treatment of all political refugees.
He said that a typical North Korean refugee will live in China for three or four years in order to earn enough money to make the crossing into Thailand.
In 2006, about 900 North Koreans were arrested for illegal entry into Thailand and are now in custody. Most entered through Chiang Rai Province or the northeast. Almost all will be sent to South Korea.
Thailand is a favorite destination because of its commitment to Article 31 of the 1951 Geneva Convention, which prohibits punishment of political refugees who enter a country illegally and also by virtue of Thailand's status as a member state of the Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Those commitments have led to a flood of refugees from neighboring countries, not only North Korea, but also from Burma, Laos, Cambodia and China. The sharp increase in political refugees has lately led to national security concerns on the part of Thai officials.
For North Koreans, a favorite entry point is a 100-mile strip of land bordering the Mekong River in northern Thailand and Laos. Residents of Chiang Saen District in Chiang Rai Province say North Korean refugees are easy to spot once in the Kingdom and quickly do everything they can to identify themselves to local police or immigration officials.
“They even run up to whoever dresses like an official and expect to be arrested,” says Wichai Srimuang, a resident of the area.
After arrest, they are sent to a local immigration detention center and later transferred to Bangkok, where the resettlement process is carried out through the joint efforts of the Thai government and the South Korean Embassy. The Thai government has no special policy toward illegal North Korean refugees, a foreign ministry official told The Irrawaddy. However, Thailand has increased efforts along the Mekong River border to prevent all illegal entries.“We don’t want to be the transit point for illegal entry from other countries,” he said. Prevention is difficult, however, because the border between Thailand, Burma and Laos on the Mekong River is more than 100 kilometers long and very isolated terrain.Resettlement to South Korea is a slow process, involving about 40 people each month. About 400 North Koreans are waiting processing now at the Bangkok Immigration Detention Center. In early May, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees submitted a letter to interim Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont urging the government to expedite the deportation process and to improve the living conditions in the center, following a hunger strike by detainees. Since the hunger strike, the Immigration Office has provided less information about North Koreans at the detention centers.
Researcher Ebihara said he is now unable to meet with detainees in the northern detention center and must wait to meet with them in Bangkok, where the process is more complicated.
Ebihara says the political refugee issue is sensitive, because the Thai government doesn't want to be in the position of Vietnam in 2004, when the North Korean government protested its aid to asylum seekers.
Ebihara said refugees prefer to cross into Thailand from Laos rather than Burma because they are unsure about Burmese policies, particularly since North Korean and Burma now have official diplomatic relations and a much closer relationship.
However, some North Koreans still try to cross through Shan State in areas controlled by ethnic armies and far from Burmese government control.
Officials are aware of several South Korean aids groups operating in Chiang Rai and restaurants that serve as gathering points for North Koreans.
Ebihara noted that if China recognized North Koreans as political refugees and helped them resettle to third countries, it would reduce illegal entries through Southeast Asia. However, that is unlikely to happened, he said.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Pirates and prices, a pressing problem

World Book and Copyright Day is being celebrated on 23 April to give due importance to books. It is United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation's (UNESCO) aim to promote reading and copyright laws. But in the Indian context, it seems withering, with the 'pirates' unscrupulously invading the industry by 'dumping' pirated books and siphoning off revenues meant for the original publishers.
In connection with the World Book Day, News Today spoke to Gandhi Kannadasan, president of the Booksellers and Publishers Association of South India (BAPASI), on various issues related to books and importance of copyright for writers and publishers.
Kannadasan said, 'First of all, for bookworms and any serious readers, every day is Book Day. Books are as good as our father's and mother's, who nurture good values in us with their guidance so also, books which nourish us with good thoughts'.
Seeking celebrations for the day, Kannadasan says, 'For many readers, the day is meant for gifting books to their friends and relatives. The day also helps them to instil the habit of book reading'. On pirated books, he said, 'To my knowledge, publishers' mentality is contributing to it. For example, if you take any English books, its prices range anywhere between Rs 400 and Rs 500. For a bookworm, it's a huge amount.
And, that price range is out of range for many serious readers, apart from higher middle class. So, 'thirsty readers' never feel guilty in buying the same (pirated) book available on pavements and with other book stalls, as they are priced well below than the original cost'.
So, what is the solution for piracy? A bookseller at Anna Salai said, 'It can be tackled by reducing hefty price tag into a reach of a common reader. By doing this, many, who are not habitual readers, can become serious readers'.
'We do not have any pirated books in Tamil or any other regional languages, because, its prices are market driven and well in the reach of its readers,' said another bookseller at Triplicane.
Falling back wholly on writers of yore April 23 is a symbolic date for world literature for on this date in 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference, held in Paris in 1995, to pay a worldwide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity. By celebrating this day throughout the world, UNESCO seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.