Three North Koreans who worked at a restaurant in China have defected and fled to a third country, the South Korean government said Monday, the second time this year North Korean foreign workers have fled.

About 50,000 North Koreans work in foreign countries and send money back to the government. The funds are a valuable source of foreign currency for Pyongyang, which is the target of international sanctions, earning an estimated $10 million each year. Restaurants are a particularly favored option for the regime. North Koreans work in some 130 restaurants in 12 countries and, as we have previously reported, the workers are chosen for their perceived loyalty to the regime.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

North Koreans who have defected to South Korea and other countries while working abroad have said harsh conditions and their exposure to foreign media influenced their decision to flee.

While individuals have defected while working at North Korean restaurants in previous years, the group defection in April is the first known mass escape. North Korea has said the workers were abducted by South Korea and called for their return. China said the workers left the country legally using valid passports.

The New Focus International news agency, based in South Korea, first published news of the latest defections. The head of the news agency, Jang Jin-sung, told the Journal he expects the workers to be safely inside South Korea within two weeks.

Thirteen North Korean restaurant workers defected last month.

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