FILE PHOTO: A long boat sails near the port of Chiang Saen on the Thai side of the Golden Triangle at the border between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar in the Mekong river, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) – The number of North Koreans slipping illegally into Thailand has surged in recent months, according to immigration bureau officials, as tensions mount on the Korean peninsula because of Pyongyang’s weapons programs.
Thailand is on a popular transit route for North Koreans defecting from the impoverished communist state. Hundreds flee each year to China and make it to Thailand after an overland journey, from where they are usually sent on to South Korea.
In 2016, there were 535 North Korean arrivals in Thailand, but the first six months of this year saw 385 arrivals, according to data from Thailand’s immigration bureau seen by Reuters, and more are arriving each week.
“An average of 20 to 30 North Koreans arrive each week now in northern Thailand alone,” said an immigration official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The surge has come despite …
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