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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The number of North Koreans defecting to the South fell by 20.8 percent in the first half of this year compared to the same period last year, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) reported on Wednesday.
Preliminary statistics released by the MOU showed that 593 North Koreans fled to South Korea between January and the end of June, compared to 749 in the same period last year.
“The reasons for the decrease in the number of North Korean defectors are a crackdown on internal society and heightened surveillance on the border area since the inauguration of Kim Jong Un regime,” the unification ministry told NK News.
Lee Duk-haeng, a Spokesperson for the Unification Ministry, said on Wednesday that the number of the North Korean defectors has “sharply shrank.”
The statistics also show that the number of escapees from North Korea almost halved between 2011 and 2012, from 2706 to 1502, and from 1514 to 1397 between 2013 and 2014.
“There are many North Korean internal factors [affecting the situation],” Lee told media during a regular news briefing.
The latest statistics also show that women now represent 85 percent of all North Korean escapees, the highest percentage since records began.
86 men and 507 women entered South Korea after leaving the North in the first half of this year, bringing the total number of the defectors in the Republic of Korea to 30,805.
Female defectors accounted for 12, 46, 55, 63, 67, 69 percent in 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, surpassing 70 percent for the first time in 2006.
A North Korea watcher engaged in rescuing North Koreans on the border area said he agreed with the unification ministry’s assessment of why defections are falling.
“The Kim Jong Un regime has bolstered border controls and the State Security Department has strengthened surveillance on the families of defectors,” Peter Jung, Pastor and Chairman of Justice for North Korea (JFNK), told NK News.
“Therefore, the cost of escaping the country rises as the border guards help people by receiving bribes and taking a risk. This is the biggest cause.”
The Chinese government’s forcible repatriation of North Koreans and Pyongyang’s increasing penalties for escapees also played a role, he said.
“There have been many changes as North Korean residents think that it is better to stay in the country spending money remitted from their relatives and family members living outside the North rather than fleeing in face of a danger and spend a lot of money.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: South Korean Government