Archive for the ‘Emigration’ Category

A new defector survey about market trade in North Korea, and what it says (maybe) about Kim Jong-un

Friday, August 28th, 2015

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

In Wall Street Journal, Jeyup Kwaak reports on a new defector survey by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies (08-26-2015) (added emphasis):

The Seoul National University Institute for Peace and Unification Studies annually surveys more than 100 North Koreans who defected in the prior calendar year. The results provide firsthand insight into developments in the isolated state, though its researchers said they shouldn’t be read as generalized facts due to the small pool of respondents.


The latest survey, of 146 North Koreans who escaped in 2014, shows significant growth from the previous year in the number of people saying they conducted private business activities and paid bribes to enable them. A little more than half said they received no money from the state, down from last year’s survey but up from the one released in 2013.

Experts say between half and three-quarters of North Koreans’ income comes from quasi-illegal market activities, such as trade of basic goods smuggled in from China, but sporadic crackdowns by national or regional security officials lead to irregular business and bribery. Defectors say officials often collect fees when they set up a booth at a market.

The results themselves do not present a new trend. Several previous defector studies indicate that markets are perhaps the most important source of income and sustenance for many (if not most) North Koreans. However, a few things are interesting to note.

The links may not be entirely clear, but it is at least symbolic that the current survey, albeit with a very small number of interviewees, suggests that support for Kim Jong-un and the leadership may not be waning, at the same time as market activity continues unabated. This at least calls into question an assumption that sometimes occurs that market trade would lead people to become more critical of the regime.

Again, too much shouldn’t be read too much into a small study with participants that probably are not geographically or socially representative of North Korea as a whole. Defectors as a group rarely are. But perhaps one could imagine that market trade being so institutionalized and regulated by the regime would make it more synonymous with the regime itself. I.e., if market trading is seen as something positive, maybe this reflects positively on the regime as well — perhaps the market has been co-opted.

The article also reminds us of the rather peculiar combination of dynamics seen under Kim Jong-un. On the one hand, market trade seems to continue unabated domestically, and initiatives like the new special economic zones and the agricultural reforms show that there is at the very minimum some new thinking going on.

But on the other hand, border controls have been tightened to a degree rarely seen since the mid-1990s, according to defector reports. Just today, DailyNK reports (in Korean) that resident in the Sino-Korean borderlands have seen their access to the Amnok river, often used for laundry by locals, increasingly restricted as of late. As the WSJ writes,

Just 614 North Koreans made it to the South in the first half of this year, compared with 2,706 in the 2011 calendar year, according to the most recent ministry data.

The drop in North Koreans who visited China on legal visas so far this year should perhaps also be seen in this context.

Taken together, the tightened border controls on the one hand, and the seemingly changing (one could say “progressive”) rhetoric on economic matters on the other, paint a mixed picture.

In the early days of Kim Jong-un, the question was whether he was a reformer or a hardliner. A few years into his rule, it seems he might be neither and both at the same time.


DPRK visitors to China drops in H1 2015

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

According to the Daily NK:

The number of North Koreans who visited China through legal means has dipped this year.

Data on the number of foreigners who went to China in the first half of this year indicate roughly 89,700 North Koreans crossed into the country, according to figures from China’s National Tourist Office cited by the Voice of America [VOA] on Wednesday.

This a 2.2 percent drop from the 91,800 visitors who were there during the same period last year, indicating the numbers are heading toward a two-year decline, it reported.

The figures from this report are only limited to those who visit through legal means and do not reflect illicit trips or defectors who enter the country.

Roughly 52 percent of North Koreans traveling to China reportedly went looking for jobs at restaurants or factories. The number of job-seekers inched up by 3,300 on-year, according to the VOA.

Men outweighed the number of women from the North, making up roughly 85 percent at 76,500. Only 13,200 were female visitors.

The total number of foreigners who went to China in the first six months of the year was at roughly 12.3 million. The greatest number of travelers came from South Korea at slightly over 2.1 million, while North Korea placed 20th on the list.

Read the full story here:
N. Koreans on visas to China drops
Lee Dong Hyuk


DPRK refugees in the USA

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

According to UPI:

The United States is now home to 186 North Korean refugees who first began to arrive in 2006 – two years after the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 was signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The North Korean refugee population in the U.S. is still small and just a fraction of other communities, Voice of America reported on Tuesday.

Major refugee communities in the U.S. include 1,078 Burmese, 879 former nationals of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 818 Somalis.

In fiscal year 2015 – which began in October 2014 for the State Department – Washington granted asylum to one or more North Koreans per month.

In July, the United States accepted four North Korean refugees, the second highest for the fiscal year.

As refugees North Koreans receive some financial support, including a monthly stipend between $200 and $300 for eight months to cover food and medical expenses, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

After a year of residence, refugees are eligible for permanent resident status and after five years are permitted to apply for U.S. citizenship.

But the financial support Washington provides North Korean refugees pales in comparison to the support South Korea provides similar defectors.

Seoul’s resettlement dollars awarded to North Koreans have decreased over the years as more North Koreans find their way to the South, but a North Korean defector still qualifies for $5,967 in financial grants, in addition to $11,000 that goes toward long-term housing.

In some cases the U.S. government works with NGOs to resettle the North Koreans, but problems have surfaced in recent years.

In July, The Washington Post reported how a U.S.-based North Korean refugee was deprived of food by his American foster family in Richmond, Va., because they wanted to make their budget stretch.

Joseph Kim, who was then 16, said he found himself hungry in the world’s wealthiest country after years of surviving on weed soup and roasted grasshoppers in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
State Department: 186 North Korean refugees now reside in the United States
Elizabeth Shim


DPRK emigration numbers in 2015

Sunday, July 5th, 2015

According to Yonhap:

The portion of female North Korean defectors topped 80 percent this year, government data showed Sunday, apparently because North Korean women are under less severe scrutiny by the communist country.

The number of female North Koreans who came to the South reached 444 in the January-May period, accounting for 83 percent of the 535 North Koreans who came to the South, according to the unification ministry.

The data was compiled tentatively as the government’s background checks for North Korean defectors have not been completed, it said. Around 30,000 North Koreans have defected to South Korea in search of freedom so far.

Since the portion of female North Korean defectors topped the 50 percent mark for the first time in 2002, the weight has been on the rise, the data showed.

In particular, since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took office in late 2011, the portion has increased above the 70 percent mark. The corresponding data reached 75.6 percent in 2013 and came in at 78.2 percent in 2014.

Experts said that it might be easier for women to flee the communist country as they are relatively less scrutinized by North Korean authorities.

Meanwhile, the number of North Koreans who defect to the South has been on the decline since 2011, the data showed.

In 2014, the number of defectors reached 1,396, down 48.4 percent from 2011, it said.

“Regardless of sex, the number of North Korean defectors has been falling,” a unification ministry official said. “The trend is likely to continue this year as well.”

While the number of North Koreans coming south has been on the decline since Kim Jong-un came to power, there has been a flurry of media reports recently that indicate that the number of high-level defectors leaving the country is on the increase.

According to the Chosun Ilbo (2015-7-2):

About a dozen senior North Korean officials have defected in recent years because they feared for their lives in leader Kim Jong-un’s purges, a source said Wednesday.

The defectors were working in China and Southeast Asia, some charged with earning hard currency for the regime.

Several have already arrived in South Korea while others are staying in a third country.

Early this year, a mid-ranking official who had been dispatched to Hong Kong from Room 39, a Workers Party office that handles Kim’s slush funds, sought asylum in South Korea with his family.

He reportedly told investigators here he was terrified of Kim’s draconian purges, which saw senior officials executed by anti-aircraft gun, and that officials left in North Korea find it almost impossible to flee because of tight controls but those working overseas can find some opportunities to defect.

Last year, a senior official of Taesong Bank, who had handled Kim’s slush funds in Siberia, fled to South Korea with millions of dollars. Even a senior official of the State Security Department fled the North and arrived here. According to the National Security Service here, the defection particularly upset Kim.

An army general has been staying in a third country since he fled the North recently, according to sources. The general was reportedly involved in the two inter-Korean summits in 2000 and 2007.

The defections highlight the climate of fear among senior apparatchiks since the brutal execution of Kim’s uncle and one-time eminence grise Jang Song-taek, as well as that of former armed forces minister Hyon Yong-chol.

In a report to the National Assembly, the NIS claimed that the North executed more than 70 senior party, government and military officials by firing squad since Kim took power.

And According to Yonhap (2015-7-6):

North Korea may continue to see its officials desert the communist country to settle abroad down the road, but the exodus is not likely to lead to the collapse of the regime, experts said Monday.

North Korea is believed to be coping with an increased number of defections by government officials as of late with frequent fears of purging and punishment haunting North Korean officials under leader Kim Jong-un.

About 10 North Korean military and party officials have reportedly fled the communist country recently in their pursuit of asylum in South Korea or in a third country.

Those defectors reportedly included a mid-ranking North Korean party official who sought asylum in the South with his family early this year while he was managing slush funds in Hong Kong for leader Kim.

Another high-ranking military official also reportedly has been staying in a country outside of South and North Korea since fleeing the communist country.

The recent outflow may continue in the future as more officials terrified of Kim’s “reign of terror” are likely to renounce their allegiance to the communist country, experts noted.

“For the time being, North Korean officials are likely to continue to flee the communist country or seek asylum, which would weaken the regime of the North’s leader Kim Jong-un,” said Chang Yong-seok, a researcher at the Institute for Peace and Unification Studies at Seoul National University.

Kim Yong-hyun, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University, also noted, “Desertion by these people may take place intermittently in the process of solidifying the Kim Jong-un regime and securing the regime’s stability.”

Since taking power in late 2011 after his father Kim Jong-il’s sudden death, the junior Kim has resorted to unusually brutal means to solidify his power base.

In late 2013, Jang Song-thaek, the husband of Kim’s aunt and once the country’s second most powerful official, was executed on charges of treason, along with many other officials with close ties with Jang.

Former defense chief Hyon Yong-chol was also purged in late April apparently due to his disloyalty to Kim.

Still, experts stressed that the terror-driven exodus may not immediately lead to a collapse of the Kim regime although it is likely to resort to military provocations outside the country in order to quell potential political instability inside.

“If Kim’s reign of terror prolongs, his governing style could bring about an instability in the communist country,” said Jung Sang-don, a research fellow at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA). “Then, there is a possibility that North Korea could make provocations in a bid to tide over its internal problems.”

Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, also dismissed the view that a series of defections by officials meant instability in Kim’s regime, saying that there have been no signs of abnormal activities among the North Korean military power or other citizens.

Here is coverage in the Korea Times.

Read the full story here:
Portion of female N. Korean defectors tops 80 pct this year: data


DPRK defections to the ROK

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

James Pearson at Reuters tweeted this photo showing the relative numbers of defectors to South Korea from 2001 to 2014 (estimated).



DPRK defectors in the USA

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

According to Voice of America:

The U.S. Department of State, in its monthly Refugee Admissions Report, says a total of eight North Koreans have now sought asylum in the U.S. in 2014.

Cheol Park, president of the Association of the Free North Korean American, said in a telephone interview with the VOA Korean service that the refugees came to America via Thailand. “We received information through various activities [that we do],” explained Park.

The association is an organization consisting of North Korean refugees who have settled in the U.S..

North Korean defectors can attain refugee status in the U.S. based on the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act. However, they are not eligible if they have already settled in South Korea, which gives automatic citizenship to North Koreans and is the preferred destination by the vast majority of those fleeing the communist country.

Park said the refugees in the U.S. receive about $200 in cash, health insurance and food stamps from their respective state government for several months. They are also provided with English education and job offers.

After about a year of living in the U.S., the defectors will be granted permanent residency and are eligible to apply for citizenship five years into their life in America.

The first group of North Koreans, nine in total, entered the United States back in 2006. Since then, 171 North Koreans have entered the U.S. as refugees.

Read the full story here:
Four More North Korean Defectors Arrived in US in July
Voice of America
Yeon Cheol Lee


DPRK defection numbers, 2014-Q1

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

A total of 360 North Koreans fled their home and arrived in South Korea in the first quarter of this year, registering a slight increase from a year earlier, the unification ministry said Tuesday.

According to the data compiled by the ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, 153 North Koreans settled in the South in January, 111 in February and 96 in March.

The figure for the quarter was slightly higher than the 319 entrants for the same period in 2013 and the 352 people in 2012, the data showed.

“The 2014 tally was slightly higher than that of the previous two years, but it remains to be seen until the end of this year if it indicates any significant changes,” a ministry official said.

Last year, a total of 1,516 North Koreans settled in the South, up slightly from 2012 when 1,502 people crossed the border, according to ministry data. South Korea is now home to 26,124 North Koreans.

Here is additional data provided by the Choson Ilbo:

From 2006 until 2012, the annual figure stood between 2,500 and 3,000, but it fell to an annual average of about 1,500 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un took power.

A ministry official said that the number has dropped because the regime has cracked down on defections. “It has tightened border security and is bringing defectors back to the country,” the official added.

Last year, defectors on average earned W1.41 million (US$1=W1,024) in South Korea, just 64 percent of the country’s average pay of W2.18 million. Unemployment among defectors stood at 9.7 percent, more than three times the average of 2.7 percent.

The Daily NK also reports the numbers.

Read the full stories here:
360 N. Korean defectors arrive in South in Q1

Fewer N.Korean Defectors Reaching South
Choson Ilbo


Lankov on the cost of emigrating

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

1,516 North Koreans who arrived in South Korea in 2013–approximately the 2012 number. In 2011, 2,706 defected. Why the drop off? Lankov writes in NK News:

From 2010-11, the number of military patrols on the hitherto poorly protected border with China increased dramatically. Military personnel are also frequently rotated to ensure that soldiers do not develop overly cozy relations with the locals, and severe punishments for graft have been introduced.

Additionally, in 2010 Chinese authorities – obviously prompted by the North Koreans – began to build a tall wire fence along the border with North Korea. This fence is not a formidable obstacle, nonetheless it still makes the act of crossing the border more risky. The construction of the fence was completed in 2012, so nowadays the border between two states appears much better protected than ever.

The “defection market” reacted to the new situation in the most certain way. In the past one could cross the border for free or, at worst, would pay the border guards a small bribe of $30-50 (smugglers had to pay a bit more). Now the price increased to the hitherto unthinkable $3,000-5,000 – and one still has to pay an additional $3,000 to a professional guide who will ensure safe transit to a South Korean embassy in Mongolia or Southeast Asia. The steep rise indicates how much more dangerous the defection has become under the new conditions. It also means that that even under the best possible circumstances one needs some $8,000-9,000 to arrange even a simple defection.

In the original article, Lankov also discusses other tactics used to reduce the number of defections.

Read the full story here:
North-South migration, part 4: After 2011, the stream dries out again?
NK News
Andrei Lankov


DPRK defectors arriving in the ROK: 2013

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

According to Yonhap:

The annual number of North Korean defectors seeking refuge in South Korea, which had been dropping since 2009, took an upturn in the first half of this year, government data showed Sunday.

A total of 717 defectors came to live in South Korea in the first half, slightly up from 710 a year ago, according to a tally by the Ministry of Unification.

North Korea defectors arriving in the South had increased annually to reach 2,929 in 2009, after topping 1,000 for the first time in 2001. But the sum has since dropped drastically with last year’s figure half the level of 2011’s 2,706.

But it was not until the second quarter of this year that the number took an upturn, according to the ministry.

“The number of defectors entering South Korea typically declines during winter season and rises again when weather gets warmer,” a ministry official said.

Here is additional coverage in the Daily NK:

According to figures released by the Ministry of Unification in Seoul on the 21st, 717 defectors entered South Korea in the first half of this year, compared with 710 in the same period last year. However, only 320 of the total number entered in the first quarter, marking a 10% decline year on year. This fact highlights the relative intensity of the second quarter increase.

Among defectors arriving in the first half of this year, 551, or 77%, were women. Last year’s figure for the same period stood at 73%.

Approximately 159 former North Koreans are in the USA.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean defectors in S. Korea on the rise


159 former North Koreans living in USA

Saturday, July 13th, 2013

According to Yonhap (via Global Post):

The number of North Korean escapees who are living in the United States is tallied at 159, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

The U.S. began accepting North Korean refugees after adopting the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004. Their number rose from nine in the 2006 fiscal year to 37 in 2008 and 22 last year, the Washington-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) said in a report, monitored in Seoul.

The report, written with data provided by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. State Department, said that from last October to the end of 2012, 13 North Koreans had obtained refugee status and were allowed into the country.

It did not give information on the number for this year.

The report said that the number of North Korean escapees allowed into the U.S. is very small, compared with more than 1.42 million other Asians who have been accepted by Washington.

One reason for the small number of North Korean refugees in the U.S. is because relatively few of them have sought asylum in the U.S., it said, adding that a long waiting time also turns them away to South Korea and other countries.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean refugees in U.S. total 159: report
Yonhap (via Global Post)