US President Joe Biden delivers remarks during a visit at Tidewater Community College in Norfolk, Virginia, US on Monday. (Reuters-Yonhap)
US President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order to sharply increase the number of refugees to be admitted into the United States this year, citing "grave humanitarian concerns."
The executive order raises to 62,500 from 15,000 the number of refugees to be allowed into the US in fiscal year 2021. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
"Given the ongoing unforeseen emergency refugee situation, I now determine, consistent with my Administration's prior consultation with the Congress, that raising the number of admissions permissible for FY 2021 to 62,500 is justified by grave humanitarian concerns and is otherwise in the national interest," said a memorandum for the secretary of state released by the White House.
Biden had signed a presidential determination on refugees in April to keep the ceiling unchanged at 15,000 from the previous administration.
The latest move comes amid recent spikes in COVID-19 infections in countries such as India and Brazil, while many in Myanmar are said to be suffering from a violent military crackdown following a coup in February.
Under the new presidential determination, the number of refugees to the United States from Latin America and the Caribbean will be raised to 5,000 from 3,000, while previously unallocated 13,000 admissions will be awarded to those from the Near East and South Asia region.
It also raises the ceiling for refugees from East Asia to 6,000 from the previous 1,000.
The United States began accepting North Korean defectors in 2004 when its North Korean Human Rights Act was enacted.
The number of North Korean defectors in the US, however, is said to remain at only a few hundred.
The number of North Koreans fleeing their homeland has also drastically dropped since early 2020, when Pyongyang began implementing a border closure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An earlier report from South Korea's Unification Ministry said the number of North Korean defectors finding their way to South Korea dropped to 229 in 2020, compared with 1,047 tallied in 2019 and 1,137 the year before.
At the end of 2020, there were 33,752 former North Koreans settled in South Korea. (Yonhap)