11/13/2006, 00.00
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More than 10,000 refugees to reach south by the end of the year

Figures were released by Unification Ministry yesterday. According to international relief agencies as many as 100,000 North Korean refugees are hiding in various Asian countries.

Seoul (AsiaNews) – The number of North Koreans who have resettled in South Korea is expected to top 10,000 by the end of this year, the South Korean Ministry of Unification said on Sunday. Overall a total of 9,140 North Koreans have resettled in the South. Another 730 more are seeking asylum at Seoul's diplomatic missions in countries like Thailand, Mongolia and China. The number of asylum seekers should continue till the end of November.

The stream of refugees into the South has steadily increased since the mid-90s when the communist state suffered severely from years of floods and droughts.

The annual number surpassed 1,000 in 2002 for the first time since the end of the Korean War.

The International Crisis Group warned last month that the number of North Korean defectors will increase as the country becomes more isolated and its economic situation worsens in the wake of its October 9 nuclear test.

International relief groups believe that as many as 100,000 North Koreans may still be hiding in other countries, mostly China. With no relatives or jobs in China, most of the defectors live in extreme poverty and often resort to begging to survive.

What is more, the Chinese government refuses to recognise them as refugees and regularly repatriates them to face torture, persecution or even execution.

The South Korean government said it will accept any North Koreans coming to the country, but cannot encourage or support their defection because of its relations with the North.

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