Some 581 North Korean defectors have been given asylum in the United Kingdom, making them the largest group of all defectors in countries other than South Korea.
VOA on Thursday quoted unpublished data by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees showing that altogether 917 North Korean refugees have been given asylum in other countries. The U.K. was followed by Germany with 146, the Netherlands with 32, Australia and the U.S. with 25 each and Canada with 23.
Most of the North Koreans there first tried to settle in South Korea. "It's difficult for North Korean defectors to seek asylum in foreign countries without going through South Korea, and although there are no statistics we believe that quite a lot of defectors living abroad hold South Korean citizenship," a government official said.
In a parliamentary audit last year, Grand National Party lawmaker Hong Jung-wook of the National Assembly's Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee said some 1,000 North Koreans have applied for asylum in the U.K. alone since 2004, 70 percent of them presumably holding South Korean citizenship.
Kim Sung-min, a former defector himself and now the president of Free North Korea Radio, explained many of the defectors "originally wanted to go to the U.S. but went to the U.K. instead because word of mouth had it that asylum criteria in the U.S. are too strict."
"North Koreans have a favorable view of the U.K. because the James Bond movies used to be shown there," one defector said. "They often dream of the U.K. because they were mainly indoctrinated against the U.S."
One defector who lives in Britain said, "It makes sense for penniless defectors to settle in the U.K. because the British government gives them almost free housing, a monthly subsidy of W700,000 (US$1=W1,059), and free education." Women especially are drawn to the U.K. because British society "provides care for women," he added.
Another defector said North Koreans also favor the U.K. because they want their children to learn English.
But it is getting more difficult for North Koreans to seek asylum in the U.K. "At one time the U.K. was the easiest country for defectors to go to," a man who helps defectors apply for asylum abroad said. "But that's no longer true, so Canada is emerging as an alternative."
Applying for asylum in a foreign country costs about US$3,000, including a broker's fee of $1,000.