As tensions mount on the Korean peninsula because of Pyongyang’s weapons programs, the number of North Koreans slipping illegally into Thailand has cascaded in recent months, according to Immigration Bureau officials. In 2016, there were 535 North Korean arrivals in Thailand, but the first six months of 2017 saw 385 arrivals. Around 20-30 North Korean arrive in Thailand every week.
However, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, a Seoul-based NGO, said the number of North Korean defectors coming to South Korea had not increased this year, implying that those coming through Thailand could be making up a higher proportion of the total.
Thailand has not signed the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and has no specific law on refugees. Unofficially, arrangements are often made between Thai authorities, the South Korean government, and defectors on the ground.
Hundreds flee each year to China and make it to Thailand after an overland journey, from where they are usually sent on to South Korea.
It’s much more dangerous, and twice as expensive, to defect from North Korea since Kim Jong Un took power in Pyongyang in 2011, refugees and experts say, and far fewer people are escaping from the repressive and impoverished country.
The surge has come despite tighter controls by North Korea on its border with China. It coincides with rising tensions on the Korean peninsula over Pyongyang’s stepped up nuclear and missile tests and warnings by the United States that it was losing patience with the isolated state.