Last month, five further North Korean defectors were granted official refugee status by the United States, which, according to the United States Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, brings the total number of North Korean refugees living in the country to 135.
The number of North Koreans who seek asylum in theUnited States has always been small. In 2006 only nine were granted refugee status, jumping to 22 in 2007, 37 in 2008, 25 in 2009 and eight less the following year. In 2011 the number rose again to 23 defectors granted refugee status, but so far in 2012 there have only been eleven, including the five recorded in June. The statistical year runs to September.
Some experts attribute the overall drop in refugee outflows to changes in security policy following the death of Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Eun has made a conscious effort to increase security along the Sino-North Korean border, capturing would-be escapees and discouraging those who might have otherwise considered defecting.
Others suspect that many who might otherwise be prompted to defect immediately are also prepared to give the Kim Jong Eun regime time to prove itself, hoping that the new broom at the top might bring meaningful social and economic change.