North Korea's flow of refugees to China and the world could become a torrent fed by isolation and starvation, an international think-tank warned in a new report urging governments to avoid a catastrophe.
The North's nuclear test, the revival of inflexible controls on farming and trade, and its rejection of aid meant "the perfect storm may be brewing for a return to famine in the North", said the International Crisis Group (ICG).
"Concerned governments can and must do more to improve the situation of the refugees and asylum seekers before it leads to catastrophe," it said in the report.
China, where many North Koreans fleeing economic misery and political repression first head, should stop forcing them back and ease restrictions on North Koreans marrying locals or visiting relatives, said the Brussels-based non-profit group.
But China rejected the report's suggestions, saying it saw the North Koreans not as refugees but illegal immigrants.
China repatriates between 150 and 300 North Koreans every week, the ICG added. "The plight of North Koreans seeking refuge in China ... is likely to get much worse until greater pressure is placed on China to adjust its practices."