China deports South Koreans, closes Christian churches for allegedly helping North Korean defectors

China has deported hundreds of South Koreans from three provinces in the northeastern region and has taken steps to close several Christian churches for allegedly helping North Korean defectors.

(REUTERS / Lee Jae-Won)Former North Korean defectors living in the South playing the role of North Korean defectors fleeing in China, perform during a campaign in Seoul December 9, 2008.

Starting last year, authorities in Liaoning, Jilin, and Heilongjiang provinces have removed hundreds of South Korean pastors and missionaries as part of a crackdown. As of last month, all of their churches in Changchun in Jilin were also shut down without clear explanation, The Express noted.

A source who spoke to The Korean Herald said Chinese authorities have urged South Korean religious to go back to their country, saying they had reason to believe that North Korean defectors were being aided by South Korean pastors located near China's border with the reclusive country.The source added that a number of churches were closed right after the South Korean religious left.

The latest measure in the three Chinese provinces is seen as pre-emptive action before the implementation of a new set of policies on religious affairs on Feb. 1, 2018. The new regulations, which will apply to all kinds of religion, will outlaw unapproved religious activities while those who are caught violating it will be fined.

Meanwhile, 10 North Korean defectors who were apprehended in Liaoning on Nov. 4 face the prospect of being repatriated. On Sunday, the South Korean consulate in Liaoning said the group was on its way to the south when Chinese police detained them, Korea JoongAng Daily reported.

Another defector who was already in China and was not part of the apprehended group reportedly contacted the South Korean consulate and asked for help so that they would not be repatriated, saying there was an elderly person with them as well as a 3-year-old child. Some in the group were also members of his family from Hoeryong. The South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs promised to talk to Chinese authorities to confirm the story and to request humanitarian measures if it was true.

Defectors who are forcefully returned to North Korea may face severe punishment which could include death. Because of this, South Korea believes in non-refoulement, which prohibits a country from deporting a person to a place where they could face persecution.