So far, the approach by the international community to North Korean asylum seekers has been to ignore them, except when they literally turn up on diplomatic doorsteps. In response, refugee advocates have adopted increasingly militant responses, trying to bring asylum seekers before the cameras of the international media at great risk to all involved. This "see no evil" approach cannot be sustained.
A comprehensive approach is required by the international community if the crisis is not to worsen and lead to further conflict between China and its neighbors and diplomatic partners. Humanitarian aid policies need to ensure that assistance reaches those with the greatest need, who are often located in North Korean border regions. At the same time, humanitarian aid policies cannot be effective without concerted diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea to both allow effective monitoring of humanitarian aid and to change its laws and policies punishing persons who seek to leave the country. This will involve a coordinated, long-term effort.
Equally important in the meantime is a concerted effort to induce China to cease the practice of refoulement or forced return of North Koreans to certain punishment in their own country. China should extend to all North Korean migrants humanitarian status that allows them to live in China, and should allow those who wish to migrate onward to third countries access to the appropriate embassies and the services of UNHCR. China must allow, and the international community must provide, humanitarian aid for those who seek refuge on China's territory, if necessary by adopting burden-sharing arrangements with other countries in the region willing to extend temporary or permanent asylum.