More than seven in 10 North Korean defectors stayed in Thailand en route to South Korea, a poll released by Seoul's unification ministry showed Tuesday, with over half of the defectors citing economic hardships as the top reason to flee the North.
In the survey of graduates of a resettlement education center for defectors, Hanawon, in 2016, 72 percent said they came to South Korea via Thailand, the ministry said.
The ministry said Laos was the No. 2 place for stopovers, followed by China, but it did not reveal details about their ratio.
Many North Koreans risk their lives to escape the repressive North Korean regime amid tightened surveillance along the border with China.
The number of North Korean defectors coming to the South reached 183 this year, raising the cumulative total to 30,391 as of Sunday, according to the ministry. The number surpassed the landmark 30,000 last year.
According to the poll, 56 percent of the defectors cited economic difficulty as the top reason for their escape, the ministry said.
"In the recent two or three years, more North Koreans defected to South Korea due to disillusionment with the Pyongyang regime and aspiration for a better life," a ranking ministry official said.
The annual number of defectors reaching the South peaked at nearly 3,000 in 2009. The pace of growth has fallen off since 2011 as North Korea's leader strengthened border control.
After North Korean defectors arrive in South Korea, they should undergo a three-month resettlement education at Hanawon.
The official said that the government is making efforts to provide necessary support to North Korean defectors staying in third countries while awaiting flights to Seoul through cooperation with the concerned countries.
Officials at Hanawon visit countries where North Korean defectors are temporarily under custody to provide them with assistance through cooperation between South Korea's diplomatic missions and their host countries.
"The government is making efforts to help North Korean defectors (staying in third countries) come to South Korea in a safe and comfortable way," the official added. (Yonhap)