Fewer defectors escaping North Korea this year

Despite a spike last year, there has been a 12.7% drop in defectors fleeing from Pyongyang to South Korea throughout 2017

18 September 2017, 9:44am
Keeping watch at the border between North Korea and China (Photo: Quartz)
Keeping watch at the border between North Korea and China (Photo: Quartz)
Following a spike in defections from North Korea to the South in 2016, the number of people making the same hazardous journey has dropped significantly this year.

According to the Unification Ministry, from January to August 2017, 780 North Koreans defected to the South, marking a 12.7% drop from the same period last year.

The decrease is believed to be a result of tighter government surveillance and reinforced border security by both North Korea and China, to where most people go before reaching South Korea.

Park Byeong-seug, member of the ruling Democratic Party in South Korea, said that the Chinese government has placed signs near the border, warning of stern punishment for those who help or employ those escaping North Korea.

In 2016, defections from the North to the South were even more significant, as there was an unusually high number of elite defectors. Amongst them was a senior North Korean diplomat in London, Thae Yong-ho, whom South Korea says is the highest-ranking official to have ever defected.

Seoul says more than 30,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the Korean War, in 1953.

Both countries are still technically at war since the conflict ended with a truce, rather than a formal peace treaty.

The majority of the defectors fled via China, which has the longest border with North Korea, with the Koreas separated by the heavily protected Demilitarised Zone (DMZ).

Out of those who escaped this year, 56.9% were workers and farmers while only 3.5% were soldiers and government agents, a report by South Korea's Unification Ministry said, according to the state news agency Yonhap.