By Yeon Cheol Lee – Four North Korean defectors arrived in the United States as refugees last month, doubling the total of arrivals for this year.
The U.S. Department of State, in its monthly Refugee Admissions Report, says a total of eight North Koreans have now sought asylum in the U.S. in 2014.
Cheol Park, president of the Association of the Free North Korean American, said in a telephone interview with the VOA Korean service that the refugees came to America via Thailand. “We received information through various activities [that we do],” explained Park.
The association is an organization consisting of North Korean refugees who have settled in the U.S..
North Korean defectors can attain refugee status in the U.S. based on the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act. However, they are not eligible if they have already settled in South Korea, which gives automatic citizenship to North Koreans and is the preferred destination by the vast majority of those fleeing the communist country.
Park said the refugees in the U.S. receive about $200 in cash, health insurance and food stamps from their respective state government for several months. They are also provided with English education and job offers.
After about a year of living in the U.S., the defectors will be granted permanent residency and are eligible to apply for citizenship five years into their life in America.
The first group of North Koreans, nine in total, entered the United States back in 2006. Since then, 171 North Koreans have entered the U.S. as refugees.
(Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.)