MOSCOW, March 22 (UPI) -- A Russian human rights activist said an agreement between Moscow and Pyongyang on North Korean defectors living in Russia is tantamount to a defector repatriation agreement.
The agreement on the repatriation of "illegal" persons signed on Feb. 2 increases the vulnerability of North Korean refugees, said Svetlana Gannushkina, a prominent rights activist.
Gannushkina told Voice of America the new agreement means illegal immigrants who don't come forward to apply for asylum with the Russian government are "deported immediately."
"Most North Korean defectors do not speak Russian or are living in destitution, and cannot apply for asylum themselves, which is why the new accord is the same as a North Korea defector repatriation agreement," Gannushkina said.
The activist also said 25 North Korean defectors applied for refugee status in 2015 and another 38 requested temporary asylum, but none of them received the protection they sought.
In January, human rights organizations said the agreement and an extradition treaty signed in November unfairly target North Koreans in Russia for deportation, and that North Koreans who are repatriated face grave punishment, including execution or a sentence of forced labor.
Moscow has not publicly disclosed the details of the agreement, but a key clause requires illegal North Koreans to be deported within 30 days.
Firms operating in Russia have been criticized for using North Koreans for forced labor. Pyongyang deploys the workforce in order to earn foreign currency for the cash-strapped regime of Kim Jong Un.
According to Russian statistics from 2015, a total of 33,000 North Korean laborers work in Russia, and some remain in Russia without documentation after their term of labor is completed.
Moscow immigration data also show that about 200 North Koreans have applied for asylum since 2004, but only two applicants have been granted asylum, Yonhap reported.