Those fleeing North Korea have a prima facie claim to refugee status, not only because of the political persecution and repression they're fleeing but also because: (1) food is distributed by the North Korean regime based on political loyalty, which means that the famine itself has a persecution element; and (2) under the North Korean penal code, North Koreans who flee the country and then are forced to return are subject to extremely harsh penalties -- in some cases even the death penalty.
These refugees have been conferred "Persons of Concern" (POC) status by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the international agency with the legal authority under international law for the protection of refugees. The UNHCR should be granted access to these individuals and allowed to conduct refugee status determinations as required by international law, the IRC said.
The IRC supports the U.S. government's decision to resume food aid to North Korea. We call on the government of North Korea to allow unfettered access for United Nations and non governmental agencies providing humanitarian assistance in North Korea.