A North Korean waits with his tractor for a small pontoon to cross a tributary on the banks of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, across the Yalu River from Dandong, China's largest border city with North Korea, in Liaoning Province, on May 28, 2015. North Korean refugees are finding their way to the United States, but their numbers are still small. Photo by Stephen Shaver | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- The United States is now home to 186 North Korean refugees who first began to arrive in 2006 – two years after the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
The North Korean refugee population in the U.S. is still small and just a fraction of other communities, Voice of America reported on Tuesday.
Major refugee communities in the U.S. include 1,078 Burmese, 879 former nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 818 Somalis.
In fiscal year 2015 – which began in October 2014 for the State Department – Washington granted asylum to one or more North Koreans per month.
In July, the United States accepted four North Korean refugees, the second highest for the fiscal year.
As refugees North Koreans receive some financial support, including a monthly stipend between $200 and $300 for eight months to cover food and medical expenses, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
After a year of residence, refugees are eligible for permanent resident status and after five years are permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship.
But the financial support Washington provides North Korean refugees pales in comparison to the support South Korea provides similar defectors.
Seoul's resettlement dollars awarded to North Koreans have decreased over the years as more North Koreans find their way to the South, but a North Korean defector still qualifies for $5,967 in financial grants, in addition to $11,000 that goes toward long-term housing.
In some cases the U.S. government works with NGOs to resettle the North Koreans, but problems have surfaced in recent years.
In July, The Washington Post reported how a U.S.-based North Korean refugee was deprived of food by his American foster family in Richmond, Va., because they wanted to make their budget stretch.
Joseph Kim, who was then 16, said he found himself hungry in the world's wealthiest country after years of surviving on weed soup and roasted grasshoppers in North Korea.