SEOUL, South Korea--Ten North Koreans, including a 3-year-old boy and his mother, have been arrested in China and face being deported to their totalitarian homeland, a rights activist in South Korea said Tuesday.

The boy, his mother and another North Korean left their hometown near the border with China 10 days ago, said the activist, the Rev. Kim Seung-eun, who helped them to flee.

They were hiding with seven other North Koreans in a house in Shenyang, China, that was raided by local police Saturday, Kim said.

Kim, who manages a network of activists and smugglers from his church in South Korea, said that one of his people in Shenyang had gone to the police station on Monday but had not been allowed to see the North Koreans.

“When we checked again today, the refugees were gone,” he said. “We fear the worst.”

In Seoul, Roh Kyu-deok, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said that South Korea was “closely monitoring” the case.

“We’re making diplomatic efforts with the related country so that the defectors will not be forcibly repatriated,” Roh said. “We have been consistently appealing for North Korean refugees to be sent where they want to go out of humanitarian consideration.”

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday that she was unaware of details of the case. But she said that China handled such matters in accordance with domestic and international law and humanitarian principles.

Most of the 30,000 North Koreans who have fled to the South since a devastating famine in the 1990s have traveled through China. Beijing treats North Koreans fleeing their country as illegal migrants, not as refugees, and often deports them back to North Korea despite defectors’ testimonies that those returned are often sent to prison camps.

Kim, whose Caleb Mission church in Cheonan, south of Seoul, has helped hundreds of North Koreans resettle in the South, said he knew the identities of only the three people he had helped. The boy’s father, who fled to South Korea two years ago, had saved the money to help his family leave their town, which suffered heavily during a flood last year, Kim said.

He did not have the identities of the others detained in China, but he said that eight of the 10 were women and that the oldest were in their 60s. Some of them had lived in China for several years, he said.

The group was waiting for smugglers to take them across China and into Laos and Thailand, where most North Korean defectors are allowed to fly to South Korea.

Kim said that more than 100 North Korean refugees had been detained in China and deported since the beginning of last month. The roundup came as the Chinese police tightened border controls and intensified crackdowns on people in the country illegally before a meeting of the Communist Party congress.

“While the world is preoccupied with the North Korean nuclear crisis, these refugees’ plight has gotten little attention,” he said.

(Nov. 7, 2017)