By Kang Hyun-kyung
Nearly one out of every 10 North Korean defectors left South Korea to seek asylum as they felt they were marginalized here, activists said Sunday.
According to data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of asylum seekers from North Korea stood at 2,137 at the end of 2012.
But activists working with advocate groups for North Korean defectors settling here, said that the actual number could be as many as three or four thousand.
Some defectors fly to other countries, mostly Canada and Western Europe, on a traveler's visa and stay there as illegal immigrants. These were not counted in the UNHCR tally.
The JoongAng Sunday, a weekly magazine, quoted multiple sources, who have returned to South Korea after their asylum efforts were in vain, as saying that more than 1,000 North Korean-born people are living in London and Toronto.
Their escape to third world countries began from 2007, it reported.
An Chan-il, director of a Seoul-based non-profit research institute for North Korean human rights, said better social networks are one of the merits enticing them to seek asylum in advanced countries in Europe or Canada.
"Expectations of better housing and generous social benefits seem more appealing to North Korean defectors," he said.
The political scientist said some defectors are feeling mounting pressure when living in the South as their families and relatives are still living in the North.
"They are extremely nervous about their names being known to North Korean officials because it would jeopardize their relatives' lives," he said.
Asking for anonymity, a male defector said many here experience various sorts of discrimination and prejudices and this sometimes prompts them to consider leaving this country for a third country with better opportunities.
Some defectors headed to Europe or Canada from China, the first foreign territory they land in after escaping from the North. But the vast majority of them illicitly seek asylum in these countries after obtaining South Korean citizenship.
Nearly 25,000 North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea for freedom and better lives so far. Their rush to South Korea showed signs of declining after Kim Jong-un took power after his father Kim Jong-il died of heart failure two years ago.
The younger Kim pronounced no-mercy to North Koreans having fled their homeland for freedom, saying three generations would be executed.