Terrible news. Dong-A Ilbo reports that China, in a clear violation of international law, sent back all 31 North Korean defectors to North Korea. According to sources, North Korea had been arresting and interrogating the defectors’ families even before this repatriation — presumably because China relayed to North Korea the identity of these defectors. Even the families of those who helped these defectors escape out of North Korea are being arrested and interrogated.

The families of those 31 who are in South Korea are wrecked with grief and guilt. One 45-year-old woman met her 70-year-old mother in China for exactly two days before leading her mother to the group in the hopes that her mother would be able to come to South Korea. One high school-aged boy, whose mother died while escaping from North Korea, had a younger sister in that group of 31 that was sent back to North Korea.

This repatriation by China is an unusually aggressive move. So far, when North Korea defectors were arrested in China, the Chinese police would hold the defectors for as long as 6 months before sending them back to North Korea so as to wait for the public reaction to quiet down. This time, however, China repatriated these defectors at the height of the international furor at the issue. (president Lee Myeong-Bak formally requested China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to repatriate these defectors only a week ago.) Significantly, according to sources within the Chinese police, these defectors were not even listed on the usual database, kept by the Chinese police, of North Korean defectors who were sent back to North Korea. This indicates that North Korean Security Bureau [보위부] came to China to directly take these defectors back.

The fight is not over. There are still more lives to be saved — approximately 300 North Korean defectors who are being held in a Chinese prison as of now. Among them is a mother with a baby who is less than a month old.