Seoul, South Korea (CNN) -- Ignoring international protests, China may have repatriated around 30 North Korean defectors who had been caught while trying to escape their homeland, a South Korean official said Friday.
Park Sun-young, a South Korean lawmaker who had been on hunger strike protesting such repatriations, told CNN she believes the North Koreans have been sent back. CNN cannot in dependently confirm the assertion.
Defectors who have made it to South Korea say anyone sent back faces a long term of imprisonment in a brutal labor camp or even execution.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, meeting with the South Korean foreign minister Thursday, said he shared Seoul's concerns about defectors and "stressed the importance of giving priority to the international standards and humanitarian considerations for the well-being of those persons."
Almost daily protests in South Korea have called for China to allow the defectors to travel to South Korea, where they would settle. China, however, considers the defectors to be illegal economic migrants and has been sending them back to North Korea for many years.
Defector Lee Ae Ran, who made it to Seoul, says there is added concern about the defectors being caught in China as "Kim Jong Un just took over the leadership and to make his position stable, he's proclaimed that he'll kill all three generations of a defector family."
That claim is reiterated by other defectors and North Korean observers.
Another defector, Won Il, told CNN he was repatriated twice by China while trying to escape North Korea. He was sent to a labor camp where, he said, he saw many die of hunger, malnutrition and exhaustion.
"Captured defectors face a slow death," he said. "There is a place called 'flower garden' where about 2,000 defectors are buried like dogs. The flowers are so red there because of their blood."
Protests are likely to continue in South Korea despite the reports that it may be too late for the 30-some defectors currently in focus.
Journalist Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.