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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The number of North Koreans who successfully reached South Korea in 2018 increased compared to the previous year, according to new provisional data released by Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) Wednesday.
Following numbers in the first half of 2018 that suggested fewer than 1000 defectors may arrive in the South in a calendar year for the first time in decades, the data now shows that 1137 individuals made it to the ROK last year after having escaped from North Korea.
While this is only ten more than the number who arrived in 2017, the new data points to roughly consistent numbers of defections in recent years, following an marked drop after Kim Jong Un came to power in 2011.
Of the 1137 new South Korean residents, 969 were female and only 168 were male, according to the MOU data – continuing the steady drop in male defector numbers seen in recent years.
Female defectors made up 85% of the total this year, which represents the other side of the steadily rising trend in female-to-male ratio among North Koreans reaching the South since yearly statistics began to be released by the MOU in 2000.
The total number of defectors to have arrived in the South now stands at 32,467, the data says, having passed the 30,000 mark in November 2016.
This number is not, however, purported to represent an accurate number of those still residing in South Korea, but rather the total of each of the yearly arrivals.
Given the fluctuation in arrivals in recent years, it is difficult to connect the numbers directly with the changes in the political situation in North Korea, but a slight rise in 2018 over the previous year does at least point to continued government inability to stem the flow of escapees.
Unlike previous years, 2018 did not see any high-profile defections or major new incidents involving defectors, though the issue of 12 restaurant workers who reached the South in 2016 continued to be a source of discord between the two Koreas.
A North Korean diplomat stationed in Italy was reported to have defected from his post in November, though the revelations did not come out until earlier this month and Pyongyang has yet to officially comment on the matter.
And while defections across the demilitarized zone are extremely rare, some crossings were reported to have taken place, including the case of one North Korean soldier reported to have escaped in November.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News