SEOUL (Reuters) - Eight North Korean defectors in China face involuntary repatriation after being detained by Chinese police last month, the Human Rights Watch group and a pastor who have been assisting them said on Monday.
Human Rights Watch said Chinese government authorities detained the eight North Koreans in mid-March during what appeared to be a random road check in northeastern China.
The detention of North Korean defectors in China comes as U.S. President Donald Trump has pressured China to do more to rein in Pyongyang amid heightened tension over its nuclear and missile programs.
"By now, there are plenty of survivor accounts that reveal (North Korean leader) Kim Jong Un's administration is routinely persecuting those who are forced back to North Korea after departing illegally, and subjecting them to torture, sexual violence, forced labor – and even worse," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement on Monday.
Robertson called on China not to deport the would-be defectors.
The United Nations has said China is required under international law not to return defectors to North Korea, where they could face persecution, torture and possibly death.
China says North Korean defectors are illegal migrants who flee their country for economic reasons. North Korea calls them criminals and describes those who try to bring them to South Korea as kidnappers.
The eight North Koreans were in the city of Shenyang, where traffic police stopped their vehicle and took them to a police station because they did not have valid documentation, Human Rights Watch said.
A Christian pastor helping North Korean defectors in China and who asked to be identified by the pseudonym Stephan Kim, said they had sent him a video clip asking U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping for help.
The video shows North Korean defectors waiting inside a vehicle outside a Chinese police station.
"President Trump and Chinese President, please save us. If we go back to North Korea we will be dead, " said a female North Korean, whose face was blurred for security reasons.
Another woman sitting next to her put her hands together and pleaded for help.
Scores of North Koreans attempt to flee their country every year, often first crossing into China and then making their way to Southeast Asia. Some countries in the region have worked with South Korea to send them to South Korea.
About 30,000 have made their way to South Korea, many with the help of South Korean human rights groups, religious organizations or commercial brokers.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Paul Tait)