The number of North Korean defectors arriving in the ROK during the first half of 2018 fell by 17.7% compared to the same period in 2017, according to official statistics recently released by the South’s Ministry of Unification (MOU).
The provisional figures, updated quarterly on the MOU website, show that from the period of January through June 2018, a total of 488 individuals from the North entered South Korea.
That is compared to 593 individuals in the first six months of 2017, 749 in the same period of 2016, and 614 for the period in 2015.
If the trend continues through to December, this year could become the first time since before 2001 where fewer than 1000 defectors enter the South in one calendar year – just one-third of the peak recorded number of 2914 in 2009.
The projected 12-month totals for 2015 through 2017 using the first-half numbers were all within an 80-individual margin of the actual totals, suggesting a roughly similar distribution across the first and second halves of the year.
Of the 488 so far this year, 430, or 88%, were women – representing a small rise in the female-to-male ratio compared with the same period in 2017.
This ratio has slowly risen in recent years, first reaching 80% of the total in 2015 and 83% for the full year in 2017.
Women currently make up 72% of all recorded defectors, which, according to the MOU, now stands at 31,827, having passed the 30,000 mark in November 2016.
But numbers have been dropping since Kim Jong Un assumed power at the end of 2011, decreasing sharply by over 1200 in the first year – from 2706 in 2011 to 1502 at the end of 2012 – due to a range of new and varied proactive measures by North Korean authorities.
Beyond suggesting changing obstacles and motivations for North Koreans considering defecting, the downward trend may, according to one expert, affect existing unofficial economic and communication networks between the two Koreas.
“North Korean refugees who make it to South Korea not only help us learn about what is happening in North Korea, they also communicate back and send money to their home communities, forming a crucial people-to-people bridge community,” Sokeel Park, South Korea Country Director for the Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) NGO, told NK News.
“So the dwindling numbers is a concern even beyond just the immediate humanitarian aspects.”
Before settling in South Korean society, all newly arriving North Koreans are required to undergo three months of “training for social adaptation” inside the MOU-operated Settlement Support Center for North Korean Defectors, also known as Hanawon.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: North Korea – Long Way Home by Roman Harak on 2010-09-06 06:04:24