DPRK Defectors down in 2015

According to the Korea Times:

The number of North Koreans who defected to South Korea this year fell below the monthly average of 100 for the first time in 12 years, the Ministry of Unification said.

Ministry officials attributed the decline to sharply tightened security along the Sino-Korean border and to an improved economic situation in the North by reinvigorated private markets, among other things, which they said are some of the biggest changes since Kim Jong-un took office four years ago.

According to the ministry tally, the number of North Koreans who were officially tagged with the defector status in the first 10 months of this year totaled 978, for a monthly average of about 98. It is the first time the figure has fallen below 100 since 2003. A ministry official estimated the total would not exceed 1,200 this year, less than half that of 2009 when the number of defectors peaked at 2,914.

The biggest reason for the decline of escapees is sharply enhanced border security by toughening the punishment of negligent or corrupt guards while more handsomely rewarding guards who arrest would-be defectors. This pushed up the amount of the bribes escapees must pay the guards to cross the Tumen River from about 5 million South Korean won to as high as 17 million won in some areas, officials said.

Other analysts find the reason in the gradual improvement of economic conditions in the isolationist state. “There are more than 400 markets in North Korea,” said one researcher at a state think tank. “As residents began to make their own money, they feel it far less necessary to risk their lives to get out of North Korea.”

Some North Korea watchers also ascribe the recent surge in the defection of the North Korea elite, including party cadre and diplomats, to revitalized markets in the North. “As the North Korean markets expanded, the fights among the power elite have also intensified to take larger shares of financial gains,” said Prof. Cho Dong-ho of Ehwa University in an interview with Chosun Ilbo daily. “Those who lose in these battles or are found to be involved in corruption have increasingly deserted their country.”

During a parliamentary audit last month, Lee Byung-ho, chief of the National Intelligence Service, also said, “Up to 46 North Korean diplomats have left the North and entered South Korea over the past three years.” Some ranking officials of the Workers’ Party escaped to the South along with their entire families based on elaborate plans they had set up over several years. There are even defectors who have several billions of South Korean won, bought apartments in southern Seoul and drive imported cars.

Read the full story here:
Number of N. Korean defectors on steady decline
Korea Times
Choi Sung-jin
2015-11-14

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