There are currently 1,052 North Korean refugees on record worldwide, according to statistics carried in the 2011 Global Trend report, which was released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) yesterday.
In addition, the report notes the existence of 490 further ‘asylum-seekers’, those who have sought refugee status and therefore fall under international protection but whose cases are still pending.
However, the statistics do not account for a number of major issues that significantly reduce the figures.
Most significantly, many defectors come to South Korea, where they are granted citizenship upon arrival and never register on the UNHCR’s radar at all, while those in China cannot be counted and are not allowed to receive UNHCR assistance in situ, leaving a black hole in the statistics.
In addition, refugees who are granted permanent residency or citizenship in a third country are not included in the statistics. Thus, while places like the UK only allow foreigners to apply for citizenship after living in the country for a significant number of years, meaning there are relatively many ‘refugees’ there, places like Canada, the United States and Germany tend to grant citizenship more readily, and therefore North Korean defectors in those places are able to earn their citizenship, thus losing their status as refugees, more readily as well.