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Daring asylum bid in Beijing

North Korea
Beijing (China)
South Korea

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Nearly four dozen North Korean refugees have scaled the wall around the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, successfully making it into the compound in a bid for asylum.

Only one member of the group, a man, was stopped from scaling the wall by an embassy guard provided by the Chinese government.

Among the 44 making it into the embassy Wednesday were eight children and eight elderly people, according to a member of the group who spoke with CNN's Steven Jiang.

Tipped off to the attempt by one of the asylum seekers, CNN Beijing bureau staff watched as the group -- some dressed as construction workers -- placed three large ladders against the embassy wall and began climbing over at 2:45 p.m. (2:45 a.m. ET).

Chinese security team appeared to have been caught off-guard, making a late attempt to stop the North Koreans from making it over the wall, Jiang said.

A refugee contacted inside the embassy told CNN the group had wanted to go to the South Korea Embassy, but it was too heavily guarded.

"We have nothing to eat in North Korea," she said. "Life is very hard. We all want to go to South Korea."

As embassy staff cleared away the ladders and helmets left behind by the refugees, the Canadian ambassador to China, Joseph Caron, said the North Koreans will be treated humanely.

"We are, of course, in communications with the government of China. We have also alerted our authorities in Ottawa. At the moment, the most important consideration is the state of these people.

"We want to ensure that ... they have something to drink and that they are fed, so we can calm the situation and determine what are the next steps. ... We will take this one step at at time."

In recent years, numerous groups of North Korean refugees have sought asylum in embassies and diplomatic compounds in Beijing despite heightened security efforts.

Typically after long negotiations, they are granted permission to leave China for South Korea via another country.

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