S. Korea keeping close tabs on reported repatriation of N.K. defectors from China: minister
South Korea's unification minister said Wednesday the government is closely looking into a media report that China forcefully repatriated over 600 North Korean defectors earlier this week.
"We are keeping close tabs on the issue," Unification Minister Kim Yung-ho said during a parliamentary audit of the ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs.
"We are continuing to verify the facts," he said, adding the ministry expressed its position on several occasions via diplomatic channels that China should not forcibly repatriate defectors."
A local media outlet reported earlier in the day that around 600 North Korean defectors detained in China were sent back to their reclusive home country Monday evening.
If the report proves true, it would mark China's first large-scale repatriation of North Korean refugees since Pyongyang recently opened its borders after three years and seven months of COVID-19 lockdowns.
Elizabeth Salmon, the U.N. special rapporteur for North Korea's human rights, has estimated that more than 2,000 North Korean defectors are currently detained in China. Concerns have grown over their fate, as North Korea has started to lift border closures. (Yonhap)