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U.S. accepted zero North Korea refugees in 2019, data show

U.S. accepted zero North Korea refugees in 2019, data show
Fewer North Koreans are finding their way to the United States, according to U.S. State Department data for 2019. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The United States did not admit a single North Korean refugee in 2019 after years of admitting a few asylum seekers annually since 2004 under the North Korean Human Rights Act.

U.S. State Department data show zero admissions for North Korean defectors, who rarely make it to the United States, possibly due to high barriers to entry and Chinese policy toward North Koreans, Voice of America reported Tuesday.

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The majority of North Korean defectors who flee their country opt to resettle in South Korea, where they are awarded long-term housing and a monthly stipend that is generous by international standards.

The few North Koreans who elect resettlement in the United States are often processed in Bangkok, where the U.S. Embassy reviews their applications. Defectors have previously said the asylum process for U.S. entry takes significantly longer than for South Korea.

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A total of 218 North Korean refugees have been granted asylum in the United States since May 2006. Their numbers dropped dramatically after President Donald Trump assumed office in 2017.

In 2018, the second year of Trump's term, the United States admitted six North Korea refugees, according to the State Department.

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During a typical year in the Obama administration, Washington would grant asylum to one or more North Koreans per month. Under the Bush administration, the United States admitted 38 North Korean refugees in 2008, the most on record, followed by 28 North Koreans in 2007.

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Last year is the first time no North Korean refugee has been admitted since 2006, according to VOA.

North Koreans are relatively isolated, but select citizens are issued passports and allowed to travel outside the country.

In a recent ranking from Canadian firm Passport Index, the North Korean passport is one of the least powerful in the world, ranking within the bottom 5 percent of the list, Radio Free Asia reported Tuesday.

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The North Korean passport permits visa-free travel to only 52 countries. Most of the countries require North Koreans to acquire a visa upon arrival.

South Korea's passport, by contrast, allows passport holders to visit 171 countries without a visa, according to the report.

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