Third Group of North Korean Refugees “Re-Defect” Back To DPRK

In what is becoming an increasing trend, North Korean "re-defectors" blame South Korean agents for their time spent in Seoul
January 24th, 2013

Two North Korean citizens have “re-defected” to their homeland after leaving for South Korea, according to details revealed from a press conference held in Pyongyang today. The high-profile return of the two North Koreans is the third such “re-defection” to have taken place in recent months and raises fresh concerns that a new trend may be emerging.

Kwang Ho and his wife and Ko Kyong Hui were today interviewed by local and foreign journalists at the People’s Palace of Culture in Pyongyang in a public manner that has now become the norm for defectors returning to North Korea.  While likely a highly staged event, the tone of KCNA’s reporting today was surprisingly convincing, with less of the exaggeration typically associated with the outlet’s reporting on life in South Korea and a lot more detail.

Kwang Ho testifies in Pyongyang, Picture CCTV

Acknowledging the disastrous famine of the mid 1990s, KCNA said that husband Kim Kwang Ho (now 37) initially crossed into China during the Arduous March for economic reasons and been caught and “subject to penalty under relevant law”. But that didn’t stop him, and in August 2009 he moved with fiance Kim Ok Sil (29) to live in China before being moved on against their will to live in South Korea.


Today KCNA were at pains to provide detail about the individuals involved in facilitating the pair’s move to South Korea.  His testimony started by explaining how a priest named Ri Yo Sep pushed husband Kwang Ho into leaving China. According to his comments, the priest was “engaged in taking DPRK citizens to South Korea” and put him in touch with the Chairman of the “Confederation for Human Rights of Refugees From the North”, Kim Yong Hwa.  According to  Kwang’s, Kim “let loose a string of honeyed words that we will be provided shelter and settlement fund in south Korea and that we can be better off if we work hard.”

As soon as Kwang had been processed by one of South Korea’s Hanawon Centers, he explained that he was harassed by Kim for money to pay for his arrival in the ROK:

He called at us and urged me to pay the amount specified in the written guarantee, adding that only then can he bring other people.  This shows that even though the south Korean puppet forces loudly speak of “defectors from the north”, they are, in fact, forcibly bringing DPRK citizens with the use of their stooges whom they distributed in different parts outside south Korea.

International media present at today’s press conference included Chinese network CCTV

For her part, wife Ko Kyong Hui was told she could go to Canada but was in the end forced to go to South Korea by an individual referred to as “Director General Ho in Shenyang”. Her testimony provided revealing details about her experience,

In Beijing [Director General Ho] said that it is hard to find a job because of differing language and control that has become tighter. In the end he suggested my going to south Korea.
When I opposed, he recommended Canada, saying that in Canada I can make money and it will be possible for me to go back to the homeland once I attain the Canadian citizenship…
Later I went to a “refugee camp” in Thailand via Kunming, China, following several men.  The “refugee camp” was a building for controlling illegal immigrants. Only there I learned that it was a sheer lie that I would be sent to Canada.

Upon her arrival in South Korea, she described how the intelligence agent assigned to her developed an accrimonious relationship due to disagreement over the sinking of the Cheonan warship,

Detective Sim Hyong Gu who was in charge of me came to my worksite one day in 2011 and..asked me what I think about “Cheonan” warship sinking case…I told him that I think carelessness was to blame and asked if it is possible for a torpedo to get rusty soon after it was shot…  He became angry because the thing did not go as he planned.

Ko believed the South Korean detective had been trying to use her to build up remarks for a propaganda campaign from the mouths of North Korean citizens that would blame Pyongyang for the sinking of the Cheonan in March 2010.

She further explained her feelings of the North Korea human rights scene in Seoul, suggesting the only reason human rights films would be shown for free in South Korea was because they were produced by the South Korean government as a way of “installing bitterness to the DPRK in South Koreans”

In explaing why they chose to “re-defect’, the article explains how despair with South Korean culture and previous high profile “re-defections” to North Korea were what convinced them it was a good idea. In particular, the husband and wife were reported to have said that it was the the case of Pak Jong Suk’s return to North Korea in June and the lenient way she was treated that persuaded them it had been a good idea to go home.

While this third case of “re-defection” comes just months after the most recent case in September 2012, North Korea human rights specialist Greg Scarlatiou explains that the trend is nothing new,

It might be tempting to see North Korean re-defectors as a new group, but redefection is not a novel idea. During the Cold War, there were similar cases of redefection, cases that have similar themes to the ones we have seen in North Korean re-defectors’ stories.

According to KCNA, Ko Kyong Hui and Kim Kwang Ho said that they were unpunished and leniently treated instead of being punished on their return to the DPRK, “stressing that the future of the DPRK is bright as the leader and the people are making devoted efforts for the prosperity of the country in one mind”.

However, the type of lenient treatment witnessed by returning defectors doesn’t necessarily come as standard, as Greg Scarlatiou also explains,

It is said that North Korea has instituted a policy that if defectors turn themselves in, they will be welcome back into the state and society of North Korea. But according to North Korean defectors, they can be forgiven if they give the party about 60,000,000 South Korean won (about USD 50,000). If they don’t have money, they can bring “crucial information” about South Korea.

Today’s news and the way it has been reported suggests that similar cases may emerge throughout 2013. Because re-defectors are unlikely to report their desire to re-defect to the South Korean government, it is difficult to track their actions. As such overall numbers of re-defections are hard to gauge,  with estimates ranging from under ten to two hundred.

Pictures: KCTV / CCTV

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About the Author

Chad O'Carroll

Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.