Americans may also be encouraged to adopt young North Koreans under The North Korea Freedom Act, which is seen by some as a way to unleash destabilising refugee flows that could trigger the collapse of the secretive state.
North Koreans who arrive in the United States will be guaranteed safe haven and assistance under a “first asylum” policy, if the legislation, sponsored by Senators Sam Brownback and Evan Bayh becomes law, AFP reported on Friday.
Previous efforts to grant refugee status to North Koreans by the United States have foundered.
Currently, North Koreans cannot apply for asylum or refugee status in the United States since they are regarded under US law as citizens of South Korea.
The bill also includes a controversial clause on adoption, likely to anger Pyongyang.
“Thousands of United States citizens would welcome the opportunity to adopt North Korean orphans”
The North Korean Freedom Act
“Thousands of North Korean children do not have parents, and are threatened with starvation and disease if they remain in North Korea,” said the text of the legislation.
“Thousands of United States citizens would welcome the opportunity to adopt North Korean orphans,” it added.
The legislation also seeks to encourage defections by North Korean scientists with knowledge of Pyongyang’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programs, as Washington is locked in a nuclear showdown with the Stalinist state.
The bill, should it become law, would ensure that any North Korean who falls into that category would be granted permanent residence in the United States.
China also faces a call in the bill to provide the UNHCR with access to all fugitives from North Korea on its territory, to determine whether they can be qualified as refugees.
China has earned the ire of rights groups by declaring that North Koreans that flee their homeland are economic migrants and not political refugees, returning many of them to an uncertain fate back home.
An estimated 300,000 North Korean escapees are hiding in China.