South Korea’s Korean National Police Agency (KNPA) has instructed police stations across the country to locate around 900 North Korean defectors the Ministry of Unification (MOU) says are missing, an official confirmed to NK News on Monday.
The announcement follows news in mid-July that North Korean defector Jon Hye Song, known as Lim Ji-hyun in the South, had returned to the North – and speculation that her return was not voluntary.
Since then South Korean police have moved to prevent more re-defections, and authorities have ordered police stations nationwide to visit the residences of North Koreans whose whereabouts are unclear and to confirm their location.
Countrywide police stations are required to report back in August.
The investigation is based on statistics provided by the South Korean Ministry of Unification (MOU).
“On a regular basis, the government has identified the whereabouts of North Korean defectors whose residents are registered as unclear in accordance with resident registration,” an official at the MOU, who wished to remain anonymous, told NK News.
South Korea’s Resident Registration Act requires all residents to report their address to their local municipality.
The unification ministry previously reported in early July that 593 North Koreans had fled to South Korea between January and the end of June, bringing the total number to 30,805. The 900 missing defectors, then, account for 2.92 percent of the total number in South Korea.
“For instance, there are defectors who haven’t given notice of a new address or registered residence,” police inspector Lim Jae-won of the KNPA told NK News.
“So if you check the whereabouts of them, most of their locations will be confirmed, of course, as they moved to another place. But we are conducting activities to find those whose whereabouts haven’t been confirmed yet.”
Jon Hye Song appeared on North Korean state-run outlet Uriminzokkiri on July 15, announcing that she had returned to the North after suffering a “painful” time in the South.
She had become well-known for her appearances on the Moranbong Club, a South Korean talk-show hosted by TV Chosun where defectors gather to talk about life in North Korea.
The South Korean government has said it is investigating the case and whether Jon returned to the North voluntarily, with some North Korean defector groups speculating that she was kidnapped in China.
The KNPA insisted that it had been taking measures to prevent defectors from returning to the North “since the Kim Jong Un regime was inaugurated.”
“Since the incident happened, we have given the order to increase the activities,” Lim said, referring to Jon’s return to the DPRK. “It’s not that we are doing something new entirely.”
The unification ministry also additionally confirmed on Monday that the KNPA was investigating the cases of 25 North Koreans who had reportedly returned to the DPRK since 2011.
“North Korean defectors are also our nation’s people,” Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesperson for the MOU, told assembled reporters on Monday during a regular news briefing when asked about measures to prevent defectors from re-entering the North.
“Therefore, we will continue to take proactive measures [for them] like other detainees in the perspective of protecting our people.”
The police told NK News that the investigation over the issue is in its “early stage” and “the outline hasn’t yet been clearly figured out.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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