Under the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act, the US offers fast-track processing for asylum seekers, though only a handful have so far been accepted.
Critics say the Human Rights Act is toothless, as it depends on refugees reaching a safe haven like Thailand.
"In order for the act to be really effective, US diplomatic missions in a number of countries must be flexible and creative in the way that they offer sanctuary to refugees," says Tim Peters, a US evangelical pastor who runs Helping Hands Korea, a charity based in Seoul.
"We are aggressively encouraging all governments in the region to provide opportunities for all North Koreans who reach their destination to allow them to move on to resettle in third countries," Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey told reporters in Bangkok.
The flight from North Korea to Southeast Asia has been compared to the "Underground Railroad" that transported black slaves in the South to the free North. That makes Thailand a crucial halfway station after a long and often perilous journey across China's vast hinterland and southern borders.
[Christian Science Monitor]