Nearly 2,000 have left since 2013, North Korean activists say, because the government says they lied on their asylum application forms. Another 150 are under imminent threat of deportation.
However, Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) told Al Jazeera it has only recorded 165 “removals” of North Korean citizens from Canada between 2013-17.
It was unclear why there is such a large discrepency in figures. Many North Koreans may have left voluntary rather than face forced removal by the CBSA, and were not officially recorded.
Eleven years ago, Taegun Kim came to Canada with his wife, daughter and son. Now they have two more children, both Canadian citizens. A deportation would be catastrophic for the family.
“That notice means death to me,” Kim told Al Jazeera. “I came all the way here for a better life and my family is well adjusted to life in Canada. To think we’re going to be separated, it breaks my heart.”
The Jo family could be broken up too if Canada carries out its deportation orders. Two children are Canadian-born; the eldest came with his parents in 2010.
The family admits they lied on their asylum application – saying they defected to China, not South Korea – to help ease the immigration process, but add they did it to escape a horrible situation.
“I feel so desperate. It’s our fault,” Hye Kyung Jo said. “They [the children] haven’t done anything wrong. They have to go through this separation because of us.”
Rocky Kim of the Canada Federation of North Korean Defectors group said family members still inside the totalitarian state remain vulnerable because of their escape. Attracting attention to their situation could be deadly, he said.
The refugees say South Korea is definitely not safe for them as North Korean spies can track them down.
“If we’re found by the North Korean government, our family left in North Korea will be executed or sent to a labour camp,” Kim said.
A lawyer has met Canadian officials to appeal to the Minister of Immigration Ahmed Hussen to allow the Koreans to stay on compassionate grounds. There’s been no response yet, however.
“Internationally we are recognised as a humanitarian and compassionate country, accepting refugees from Syria and all over the world. And why should these 150 remaining people be sent back?” said lawyer Jacqueline An.