A family of seven North Koreans, including three children, entered the Beijing office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday, pleading not to be forcibly returned to North Korea.
Officials from the U.N. refugee agency called on China not to send the group home before the petition for refugee status was processed. Despite being a signatory to international refugee conventions, China has ignored UNHCR protests and forcibly repatriated North Korean refugees in the past. U.N. officials said the family's case was strong.
"Our office is saying that these people deserve asylum and they cannot be sent back to North Korea because if they were, they would be in danger," said Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Geneva.
The family--two grandparents, their daughter, her husband and the couple's three children--arrived in Beijing from the port town of Dalian, according to Jiro Ishimaru, a freelance Japanese journalist who escorted them to Beijing.
They have been living in China as refugees since 1999, he said.
The South Korean government announced it would provide asylum to the group if China allowed it to leave the mainland.