The number of North Korean defectors arriving in South Korea in the first half of this year dropped to half that of the same period last year. According to the Unification Ministry on Thursday, 751 defectors arrived from January to June, down 45.4 percent from 1,375 on-year.
The number of defectors arriving here mostly rose every year since 2001, when it first exceeded 1,000. The figure only dropped in 2005, by 27 percent, and in 2010, by 19 percent. But this is the first time that the number has fallen so drastically
A tougher crackdown by the North Korean regime seems to be the main reason. A ministry official said, "Around the time of former leader Kim Jong-il's death late last year, more guard posts were set up along the North Korea-China border, and the brakes were put on North Korean border guards taking bribes to turn a blind eye to defectors crossing the river."
"Since the North imported electromagnetic wave detectors from Germany last year, it has been difficult to make phone calls to anybody in the North," points out Kim Hee-tae of Group for North Korea Human Rights, an NGO helping defectors. "The broker's fee for arranging a defection has increased by more than 50 percent."
Until last year, about equal numbers fled to China in search of food or traveled to a third country right after escaping the North with the help of their families or acquaintances in South Korea.
But now more than 80 percent who arrive here fled to China in search of food first and then come to Seoul later, suggesting that the regime's crackdown has crippled South Korean NGOs' organized assistance, and only those who had already fled and lived in China manage to get to South Korea.
China's crackdown on illegal aliens this year also probably plays a part.